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The Advaitlc Theism of 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata 
Purana ‘can be considered as the most 
significant study of the Purana in its 
deeper principles .... None of the other 
studies have such interpretative insight 
into this scripture or into its place 
in the larger context of India’s thought 

— Dr. Thomas Berry, Riverdale Center 
of Religious Research, New York 

Within a compass of eight chapters of 
this volume the author makes a close 
examination of the fundamental tenets 
of Bhagavata Purana. By penetrating 
analysis he shows how as a unified 
scripture Bhagavata Purana combines 
Vedantic non-dualism and Vaisnava 
devotionalism; and how the Bhagavata 
non-dualism accommodates the reality of 
the universe and of the individual selves 
in it within the all-encompassing reality 
of Brahman. According to the author, 
this wonderful blending of devotion- 
alism and non-dualism in the Bhagavata 
Purana finds its expression in the wor- 
ship of Kr§pa as transcendent and 
supreme deity by all Vaisnavas. 

Discussion and delineation through- 
out the chapters single out ‘each of the 
major forces’ determining ‘the religious 
structure of the Bhagavata which has 
a significance and meaning for the study 
of religion beyond that of situating a 
scriptural text within a religious history’. 

The present scholarly work will be 
of special appeal to the students of 
Indian religion and philosophy. It will 
also find place in the bookselves of the 
general reader interested in Indian 
history and culture. 


- 150.00 

Daniel P. Sheridan studied at St. 
John’s and Fordham universities in 
New York, and graduated in Theology 
and History of Religions. He has written 
a number of scholarly research papers. 
Some of them were published in Purana 
(Varanasi), Journal of Dharma (Banga- 
lore), Horizons (Villanova), Studies in 
Formative Spirituality (Pittsburgh), 
Anima (Pennsylvania), The Journal of 
Religion (Chicago), and The Thomist 
(Washington d.c.) 

Dr. Sheridan is Associate Professor 
of the History of Religions at Loyola 
University in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

ISBN : 81-208-0179-2 

The Advaitic Theism of 




First Edition 1986 

Bungalow Road, Jawahar Nagar, Delhi 110 007 

Chowk, Varanasi 221 001 
Ashok Rajpath, Patna 800 004 
120 Royapettah High Road, Madras 600 004 


ISBN: 81-208-0179-2 

This project was supported in part by the Academic Grant Fund of 
Loyola University of New Orleans. 



In memory of 



The Bhagavata Purana is a scripture superbly written, with 
aesthetic sensitivity, devotional intensity and metaphysical subt- 
lety; a tapestry resplendent in its color, its intertwining motifs 
and its dancing figures, therein expressing a universe in which 
the divine and created worlds differentiate and identify in an 
endless sequence of mutual transformations. If much of this 
scripture is presented in long discursive passages and in over- 
drawn narratives, it culminates in the luxuriant world of 
Krsna, the warrior-charioteer of the Bhagavad Gita become the 
divine lover of the cowherd maidens. 

The Krsna legends are presented in a village folk setting 
with trickster episodes and erotic love-play that communicate 
some of the most distinctive aspects of the devotional traditions 
of India. Such a saviour personality ! A divine child who steals 
butter and plays pranks with his family, a youth who steals the 
garments of the maidens while they are swimming, who hides 
and then reveals himself, who dances with erotic delight with 
the village women, and in all this makes the divine present in 
its supreme transforming power. While such legends of an in- 
carnate deity offend our western sense of divine dignity, they 
establish in India an archetypal figure that has inspired the 
religious life there in an all-pervasive manner over these many 
years. Indeed these are not merely fanciful tales; they are 
supported by the elaborate sequence of narrative recitations, 
descriptive passages and intellectual discourse. This is what 
gives to the Bhagavata Purana not only its amazing power over 
the emotions and sensitivities of India but also over its high 
intellectual perceptions. 

That this Purana should have been neglected for such a long 
period by the scholarly traditions of the west is not entirely 
surprising since the course of our studies has followed generally 



the course of the tradition itself by being centered first on the 
Vedas, the Upanisads, the Epics, the Sutras and their commen- 
taries. Yet the entire tradition was reshaped during the puranic 
period. The realities of India’s religious life for the last thou- 
sand years must be understood under the influence of these 
theistic traditions that emerged in this time and in the light of 
intense devotionalism that resulted in both the Vaisnava and 
in the Saivite traditions. With such works as the Ramacarita- 
manasa and the Gita Govinda and the other devotional writings 
of the various vernacular languages a new religious world 
came into being that is much less understood by western 
scholars than the earlier components of the tradition. 

So too with the Bhagavata Purana ; its devotionalism tends to 
indicate to the modern mentality that it is lackingin intellectual 
subtlety or even that it is not of intellectual significance, that it 
does not deserve the attention lavished on some of the other 
writings of the tradition. That this is not so can be clearly seen 
in this study. This Purana rivals in its insight and in the abun- 
dance of its memorable phrases the finest passages from any of 
the other masterworks of the tradition. To combine such depth 
of intellectual discourse with such heightened emotional reson- 
ance and such exciting imagery is a special genius of India. 
The heightened emotion becomes essential for the under- 
standing while understanding that does not evoke intense emo- 
tional responses can hardly be accepted as authentic insight. 

What is important just now is the elaboration of this tradi- 
tion not only for India and its peoples but for the religious 
heritage of the human community. Each person is now the heir 
to the total human tradition as well as to the particular cultural 
and religious traditions of a particular region of the earth. The 
Krsna stories and the associated religious thought belong to 
the realm of religious literature of the larger human community 
as do the Jataka stories of Gotama Buddha and the biblical 
stories and even the stories of the tribal peoples of the various 
continents. Only when these come together can we appreciate 
the richness of the revelatory experience whereby the divine has 
communicated itself to the human community. Precisely be- 
cause each of these has its own distinctive meaning and context 
of interpretation they are able to enrich each other. 



The special contribution of India is its sensitivity to the pre- 
sence of the divine within the phenomenal world. The lavish 
religious-cultural heritage of India can be considered as dis- 
covering ever more profound ways in which we are able not only 
to intellectually perceive the divine within the world of natural 
forms but also to participate in the divine activities themselves. 

We live presently in the historic moment when our scientific 
inquiries into the innermost structure and functioning of the 
natural world are recovering our primordial intuitions of the 
numinous presence manifesting itself throughout the universe. 
That this experience has a shamanic quality has been recognized 
by the scientist, Brian Swimme, in his remarkable statement 
concerning the scientist in relation to these earlier forms of 
spiritual experience as well as to the classical religious cultures 
whose contemplative saints spent their lives in retirement and 
contemplation and then returned to speak to the people on the 
ultimate questions that concern themselves and the universe 
about them : “It is this same sense of ultimacy that the scientist 
has discovered in a profound encounter with the real, this same 
sense of the fantastic, the extraordinary, the real.” By the very 
force of his inquiry the scientist finds himself assuming a trans- 
scientific role, a role similar to that carried out in former times 
“by the shaman or the contemplative recluse” (Teilhard 
Perspective, July, 1983). Science is truly the yoga of the west. 

Thus the authors of the Bhagavata Purana in ancient times in 
India and the scientist in modern America find that they are 
finally involved in a similar project, an appreciation of the 
ultimate dynamics of the universe. Both are forced ultimately 
to a numinous sense of the universe as music or as dance. This 
we find directly stated by Leonard Feldstein in the title of his 
book. The Dance of Being and in a further statement of Brian 
Swimme that : “The fireball at the beginning of time is a huge 
molten ball ringing with music” (Creation, July/August, 1986, 
p. 25). 

While the meeting of these two traditions is still in its incipi- 
ent phase it is important that these traditions each continue on 
true to the arc of their own inner development. We can be assu- 
red that each will find a resonance and amplification in the 
other, both in the conscious and in the unconscious realms of 



the human psyche. Through this study of Daniel Sheridan the 
profound expression of India’s experience as contained in the 
Bhagavata Parana is now available to us as never before. He is 
a gracious writer, a thinker through whom the meaning of the 
sacred text becomes available to us and will ring in our minds 
throughout the future with a new depth of appreciation. 

July, 1986 Thomas Berry 

Riverdale Center of Religious Studies, 

New York. 





The Bhagavata Parana 2 

Unity and Date 4 

Authorship and Provenance 7 

Puranic Genre 12 

Contents of the Bhagavata 14 

Method of Redaction Criticism 15 

The Supreme Person 17 

The One and the Many 20 

The Absolute ‘With’ and ‘Without’ Qualities 24 

Non-dualism and the Self 28 

Bhagavan’s Creative Energy 3 1 

Energy As Power ( sakti ) 34 

Yogic Energy 35 

Illusion and Bondage 38 

Non-dualism and Pluralism 39 



Krsna Over Visnu 52 

The Four Ages 53 

The Questions of the Sages 55 

Bhagavan Krsna 57 

Manifestations of the Divine : The Avatara 59 

The Cosmic Manifestations (gunavatara) 62 

The Presiding Manifestations ( vyiiha ) 63 

The Play Manifestations ( Id avatar a ) 65 

The Forms of Devotion 71 



Characteristics of Devotion 79 

The Ninefold Practice of Devotion 81 

Yoga and Knowledge 85 

Superiority of Devotion 90 

Liberation 92 


The A]vars 97 

Ecstatic Devotion 100 

The Ecstatic Play (rasalila) 102 

Allegory and Eroticism 107 

Separation 113 


Madhva 118 

Vallabha 123 

The School of Caitanya 129 

Summary 134 



Non-dualism and Difference-in-Identity 136 

The Bhagavata's Difference-in-Identity 140 







INDEX of subjects 

Chapter I 


The problem of the transcendence and immanence of the 
Divine has challenged the religious imagination of humankind 
from the moment men first began to consider their place in the 
universe. The variety of the solutions to this problem in the 
higher thought traditions is itself a dimension of the problem 
fascinating for the historian because it suggests that diversity is 
not in conflict with unity. Each tradition has an irreducible contri- 
bution to make toward a satisfactory solution of the relation of 
God and human. Whether to be distinguished from God or to 
be identified with God, whether God is near or far, are dilem- 
mas which face the human in the intimate moments of interior 
anguish and in the public moments of community worship. The 
origins of the solutions are lost in the unrecorded attempts at 
self-understanding of early history. One form of solution has 
endured in India for the most of three millennia. Non-dualism 
surfaced in the speculations of the Upanisadic sages and ever 
since has been the context in which religious thinkers in India 
have formulated their visions. Such an enduring tradition has 
an important claim upon anyone who considers whether God 
is transcendent to or immanent in his universe. 

Yet non-dualism can cut across a rigid dichotomy between 
transcendence and immanence. A God who is not ultimately 
different from the individual self transcends the limitations of 
specificity, individuality and temporality. A God who is not 
different from creatures is immanent in the forms evolving out 
of the divine self. A God who is not subject to time need not be 
distinguished from creatures on account of priority. Such a 
non-dualism seeks a ‘both/and’ solution to the problem of the 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 



transcendence and immanence of God in relation to creation. 
If a religious visionary beholds God in a preeminently personal 
form and has at the same time a profound conviction of God’s 
identity with self and the universe, then a truly creative religious 
moment has occurred. Such a moment occurred in the ninth 
century in South India among the Brahmans who composed the 
Bhagavata Purana . 1 The Bhagavata' s breadth of vision, pro- 
fundity of insight, and untroubled philosophical naivete allow 
the historian to witness a great system of belief grappling with 
the perennial problem of God’s transcendence and immanence. 

The Bhagavata Purana 

The scholar and the devout villager in India have looked to the 
Bhagavata Purana for guidance, vision, ecstasy, and the truth. Its 
first verse proclaims : “the True, the Supreme, on Him we meditate .” 2 
The Bhagavata is considered the Fifth Veda , the greatest Parana 
which, as Daniel H. H. Ingalls says, “stands out by reason of 
its literary excellence, the organization that it brings to its vast 
material, and the effect that it has had on later writers .” 3 Three 
Vaisnava schools, founded by Madhva, Vallabha, and Caitanya, 
view its teachings as authoritative. It is the main channel through 
which the stories and legends about Krsna have entered the 
length and breadth of Hindu civilization. Yet in modern times 
the Bhagavata has been either neglected or misunderstood by 
scholars of religion in the West. The systematics of the later 
acaryas attracts the scholars’ attention while the Bhagavata’ s 
encyclopedic inclusivity of Vaisnava philosophy, theology, piety, 
and lore bewilder the modern gaze. Some of its tenets even repel 

1. The Bhagavata Purana or The Scripture of the Devotees of Bhagavdn 
is one of the eighteen great Puranas, which characterize the new sectarian 
Hinduism (1st millennium a.j>.). A Purana is an ‘ancient thing,’ a popular 
scripture of encyclopedic scope. 

2. Bhagavata Purana 1.1 .Id : satyam parani dhxmahi // (This and all the 
following references to the Bhagavata Purana will be indicated by number 
alone. The translation, unless otherwise indicated, will be based on that of 
Tagare. The Sanskrit will be from the edition of 1983 by J. L. Shastri. 

3. Daniel H. H. Ingalls, “Foreword,” in Krishna : Myths, Rites, and 

Attitudes, ed. by Milton Singer (Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 

1968), p. vi. 

the secular scholar who searches it “from the strictly philosophi- 
cal point of view,” but, as S. Dasgupta reluctantly concedes, “it 
will be impossible to ignore the religious pathology that is 
associated with the devotional philosophy which is so predomi- 
nant in the South and which so much influenced the minds of the 
people not only in the Middle Ages but also in the recent past 
and is even now the most important element of Indian 
religions .” 4 * 

This “most important element of Indian religions” in its 
major text has finally begun to attract a scholarly attention 
commensurate with its importance. In the nineteenth century 
E. Burnouf 6 and H. H. Wilson 6 studied it. In this century 
S. Dasgupta 7 culled its philosophical import. E. Pargiter 8 analyzed 
it as a source for historical data. In the United States T. Hopkins 9 
examined the Bhagavata for its social teaching and Larry Shinn 10 
reviewed its teaching about the relation of deity and sanisara. 
S. Bhattacarya 11 has presented a study of its metaphysics im- 
pressively, but with a dubious methodology. A. Sarma Biswas 12 

4. Surendranath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, III (Cam- 
bridge : At the University Press, 1940), vii. 

5. Le Bhagavata Purana ; ou, Histoire poetique de Krichna. 5 vols. Vols. 
1-3 translated and published by Eugene Burnouf (Paris : Imprimerie 
Royale, 1840-1847). Vol. 4 translated by M. Hauvette-Besnault (Paris : 
Imprimerie Nationale, 1884). Vol. 5 translated by A. Roussel (Paris : 
Imprimerie Nationale, 1898). 

6. H. H. Wilson, Essays Analytical, Critical and Philological (London : 
Trubner & Co., 1864-1865). 

7. Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy. 

8. F. E. Pargiter, Ancient Indian Historical Tradition (London : Oxford 
University Press, 1922) and The Parana Text of the Dynasties of the Kali 
Age (London : Oxford University Press, 1913). 

9. Thomas J. Hopkins, “The Vaishnava Bhakti Movement in the 
Bhagavata Purana” (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University 1961). 

10. Larry Dwight Shinn, “Krsna’s Lila : An Analysis of the Relation- 
ship of the Notion of Deity and the Concept of Samsara in the Bhagavata 
Purana (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 1972). 

11. Siddhesvara Bhattacarya, The Philosophy of the Srimad-Bhagavata 
(2 vols.; Ranjit Ray, 1960-1962). 

12. A. S. Sarma Biswas, Bhagavata Parana: A Linguistic Study (Dibru- 
garh : Vishveshvarand Book Agency, 1965). 

4 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

has studied it linguistically and T. S. Rukmani 13 has given a 
survey of its general facets. Apart from the sectarian commen- 
tators, no one apparently has attempted an examination of the 
Bhagavata ' s religious structure. 

From one point of view this has already been done by the 
earlier Indian scholars in such commentaries as Sridhara’s or the 
sectarians’, but these reflect their own sectarian milieus, differ 
among themselves, and are separated from the Bhagavata 
by centuries. Undoubtedly the Bhagavata had the dynamic 
potential for these developments, and a thorough study of the 
Bhagavata ' s theology should show this potential as well as show 
the sources from which it derived. 11 In this study we seek to 
make a beginning by examining the Bhagavata in order to 
understand its religious structure, both implicit as well as 
explicit, through what may be called a ‘redaction criticism.’ 

Unity and Date 

Such a redaction criticism assumes a unitary authorship or 
composition. This is subject to question. In its literary style the 
Bhagavata uses the device of question and answer, which results 
in narrations within narrations. For example, Suta relates what 
he heard from Suka who heard it from Vyasa, or Suta relates 
Krsna’s conversation with Uddhava, and so on. Such a device 
may be open to both interpolation and repeated redaction. On 
this question of the Bhagavata ' s unity, a general conclusion is 
possible, though subject to qualification, and even dissent from 
some scholars. 

According to M. Winternitz, the Bhagavata “is the one 
Purana which, more than any of the others, bears the stamp of 
a unified composition, and deserves to be appreciated as a 
literary production on account of its language, style and 

13. T. S. Rukmani, A Critical Study of the Bhagavata Puraria, The 
Chowkhamba Sanskrit Studies, Vol. LXXVII (Varanasi : Chowkhamba 
Sanskrit Series Office, 1970). 

14. Cf. J. A. B. van Buitenen’s statement : “...the future became the 
commentary on a basic text.” in “On the Archaism of the Bhagavata 
Purana ” in Milton Singer, Krishna : Myths, Rites, and Attitudes, p. 37. 

Introduction 5 

metre.” 15 Its style is unusual, being complicated and archaic; 
in syntax its sentences are nearer to English word order than is 
usual in Sanskrit and its related languages. According to J. A. B. 
van Buitenen, while Vedic archaism was notably absent in 
classical Sanskrit, the Bhagavata is a notable exception, especially 
within the Puranic tradition from the second to the tenth century 
a.d. He considers it “a unique phenomenon... when Sanskrit 
letters were in fact on the decline, a text purporting to belong to 
the Puranic tradition consciously attempted to archaize its 
language.” 16 

Yet according to S. Dasgupta, “the Bhagavata is a collection 
of accretions from different hands at different times and not a 
systematic whole.” 17 He thinks the contradictions within its 
various narrations are too conspicuous to maintain any unity 
beyond the most extrinsic. P. Sastri discerns two, perhaps three, 
revisions within the text. 18 Although there is some evidence for 
this in the convention of narration within narration, the 
evidence for a final redactor, who wrote and compiled a single 
version is convincing. As C. V. Vaidya sums up: 

...It appears to be the work of one author. The diction is 
the same throughout; the manner of running longer Vrttas 
is the same and the exposition or theory is the same. There 
may be some interpolations but they are few and far bet- 
ween, unlike those in the other Puranas. Indeed there are 
supposed to be 332 Adhyayas in the Bhagavata as stated in 
the Padma Purana, and Sridhara has commented on 335 
only. These three additional chapters are also pointed out. 
Hence it may be stated that the present Bhagavata is the 
least tampered with Purana we have and thus there is no 
difficulty in relying upon arguments drawn from an internal 
study of the Purana as in other Puranas; for with regard 

15. Moriz Winternitz, A History of Indian Literature, translated by 
S. Ketkar (New York: Russell & Russell, 1971), I, 556. 

16. van Buitenen, “On the Archaism of the Bhagavata Parana,” p. 24. 

17. Surendranath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, IV (Cam- 
bridge : At the University Press, 1949), 26. 

18. P. Sastri, “The Mahapuranas,” Journal of the Bihar and Orissa 
Research Society, XIV (1928), Part III, 323-40. 

6 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

to the latter one is never certain, when relying upon any 
extract from them, as to whether these extracts do belong 
to the original Purana or whether they are interpolations. 19 

For a study of the Bhagavata ' s religious structure, in addition 
to confidence in the text’s unity, a knowledge of its place of 
origin and date, as clearly as these can be ascertained, is im- 
portant. This information can only be derived circumstantially. 
Early European scholars, such as Colebrooke, Burnouf, and 
Wilson, thought that the Purana was composed by the gram- 
marian Vopadeva (ca. 1350), the author of an index to the 
Bhagavata, the Harilila, but the theory is untenable. The terminus 
ad quem must be the catalogue of the Purdnas in Alberuni’s 
history (1030 a.d.). Since it gives greater detail to Krsxia’s 
biography than either the Harivamsa or the Vis nu Purana, the 
Bhagavata probably postdates these texts of the third or fourth 
centuries. 20 Thus the limits for its dating are 500-1000 a.d. 
Within these limits opinion varies. From the references within 
the Bhagavata apparently to the Vaisnava Alvars it appears that 
the Bhagavata was written in South India, probably in a Tamil 
speaking area. For example: “There will be many in the Dravi- 
dian lands, where the rivers TamraparnI, Krtamala, Payasvini, 
the most sacred Kaverx, Pratici and Mahanad! flow; those who 
drink their waters generally become pureminded devotees of 
Bhagavan Vasudeva.” 21 The main period of the Alvars’ activity 
can be placed in the eighth and ninth centuries. The Bhagavata ' s 
redactor maybe considered the contemporary of these saints. Thus 
T. Hopkins’ assessment seems correct: “The ninth century, prob- 
ably between 850 and 900 a.d., would thus seem the most likely 
time for the Bhagavata to have been written.” 22 This, however, 

19. C. V. Vaidya, “The Date of the Bhagavata Purana,” Journal of the 
Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series, I (1925), 145-46. 

20. Witernitz, A History of Indian Literature, I, 555. 

21. XI. 5. 39-40 : kvacitkvacinmaharaja dravidesu ca bhurisah/ tamra- 
parnl nadi yatra krtamala payasvini // kaverl/ ca mahapunya pratici ca 
mahanadl ye pibanti jalam tasam manuja manujesvara prayo bhakta 
bhagavati vasudeve’malasayah// Cf. IV. 28. 30. 

22. Hopkins, “Vaishnava Bhakati Movement in the Bhagavata 
Purana,” p. 7. 

Introduction ' 

is a tentative assignment. With van Buitenen, we agree that until 
“fresh evidence turns up, it is better not to push back the date 
of the final version of the Bhagavata too far, nor too uncompro- 
misingly to insist on the southern origin of our text.” 23 There 
are no references to the Bhagavata in Ramanuja (12th century) 
nor in Yamuna (918-1038), both South Indian devotional 
theologians. ‘‘Their reticence”, according to van Buitenen, 
“needs to be explained... That neither appears to quote from our 
text may mean either that in their day it was not sufficiently 
known or that it was not sufficiently respectable for their 
orthodox purposes- But argumentum esilentio are never conclu- 
sive... 24 Nevertheless, a reasonable working hypothesis dates 
the Bhagavata around 900 a.d., and there seems to be no 
alternative to a South Indian origin. 25 

Authorship and Provenance 

The Bhagavata itself attributes its authorship to Vyasa, 
the legendary compiler of the Vedas and the author of the 
Mahabharata and of the Brahma Sutras. In a charming con- 
versation the sage Narada tells Vyasa that his inquiries were 
complete, that he had produced the Mahabharata : “Have you 
not thoroughly comprehended whatever you desired to know, 
as you have compiled the great, wonderful Bharata which is full 
of matters pertaining to the principal goals of human life ? The 
eternal Brahman which has been so much coveted by you has 
been known and attained by you. Still, O learned sage, you are 
worrying yourself as if you have not achieved your goal.” 26 But 
Vyasa asks Narada to “explain to me sufficiently clearly the 
deficiency in me though I have dived deeply into the Supreme 
Brahman by Yogic practices and have mastered the Vedas by 

23. van Buitenen, “On the Archaism of the Bhagavata Purana,” p. 26. 

24. Ibid. 

25. F. Hardy confirms this assessment by showing that some passages 
of the Bhagavata are translation-paraphrases of Alvar poems. See Viraha 
Bhakti : The Early History of Krsna Devotion in South India (Delhi : Oxford 
University Press, 1983), p. 511-526. 

26. 1.5. 3-4 : jijnasitarn susampannamapi te mahadadbhutam/krtavan- 
bharatam yastvam sarvarthaparibrmhitam//jijnasitamadhltam ca brahma 
yattatsanatanam/ athapi socasyatmanamakrtartha iva prabho// 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

religious observances.” 27 Narada then chides Vyasa: “You have 
not practically described the pure glory of Bhagavan. 1 think 
that knowledge... is incomplete... You have not really described 
the glory of Vasudeva.” Narada tells him to “recollect with 
concentrated mind the various acts of the Wide-Strider for 
liberation from all bondages.” 28 
The identity of the redactor of the Bhagavata is important for 
an accurate description of its religious structure. Yet usually 
the identity of the redactor is derived from an investigation of 
that structure. Thus arguments can often be circular. With the 
issue complicated in this manner, certain parameters of the 
question may be discussed and some tentative conclusions 
reached. It has already been seen that Yamuna and Ramanuja 
of the isrl-Vaisnavas ignore or are unaware of the Bhagavata. 
It would seem then that several schools or tendencies coexisted 
within what may broadly be called Bhagavatism during the 
eighth through the eleventh centuries in South India. Besides 
the group which produced the Bhagavata there were at least the 
following groups pertinent to this discussion: (l) the Alvars 
who had a mystical devotion to the avatara Krsna uncomplica- 
ted by theological or philosophical theories; (2) the Pancaratras 
who were influenced by Tantrism and who had a developed 
theory of manifestations (vyuha) with little emphasis on the 
avatara Krspa; (3) the SrI-Vaispavas who claimed for their 
camp both the Alvars and the Pancaratras while modifying them 
in their own way. The 3rI-Vaisnavas downplay the Krsna of the 
Alvars while they accept the Alvars’ emphasis on devotion and 
combine this with Pancaratra ritual. This group also considered 
the Brahma Sutras, as interpreted by theistic commentators like 
Bodhayana, authoritative. Over againt the Sri-Vaisnavas were 
the Bhagavatas who produced the Bhagavata Purana. They too 
accepted the Alvars, but with an emphasis on both devotion 

27. 1. 5. 7b : paravare brahmani dharmato vrataih snatasya me nyunam- 
al ain vicaksva // 

28. 1. 5.8-9, 13 : bhavata’nuditaprayarn yaso bhagavato’malam/ yenai- 
vasau na tusyeta manye taddarsanam khilam// yatha dharmadayascartha 
munivaryanukirtitah/ na tatha vasudevasya mahima hyanuvarnitah//.. .atho 
mahabhaga bhavanamoghadrk sucisravah satyarato dhrtavratah/urukramas- 
yakhilabandhamuktaye samadhinanusmara tadvicestitam// 



and Krsna, while they downplayed the Pancaratra rituals and 
theories. The following diagram shows the relationships. 

Vaisnava Bhagavatism 

I . 

Alvars Pancaratra 

(Krsna — Bhakti) (Vyuhas) 


I - I 

Bhagavatas SrI-Vaisriavas 

The question of Brahmanic orthodoxy or orthopraxis also is 
relevant to the question of the provenance of the Bhagavata. 
T. Hopkins in an analysis of the Bhagavata’s social teaching has 
observed that the Bhagavata is relatively open on the issue of 
caste in contrast to the rigidity of the dharma sastras. Devotion 
was open to siidras, outcastes, and women. The exclusivist 
Brahmanic rites and disciplines are condemned. But because of 
the Bhagavata’s consistent awareness of the Sanskrit literary 
tradition, Hopkins concludes : 

...the actual writing of the Bhagavata was probably done 
by scholarly ascetics who were opposed to the orthodox 
socio-religious system and to the abuses derived from it. 
They formed the leadership of the devotional movement, 
practicing and teaching bhakti based on faith and simplicity 
and free of the restrictions of orthodox religion. These 
exemplary devotees appealed to those who were poor and 
distressed through the misfortunes of birth and the inequi- 
ties of the established order. The latter made up the mass 
support for the movement, which at the time of the 
Bhagavata was an informal association of people drawn 
together by their common commitment to devotion. The 
views of both groups are evident in the Bhagavata which 
presents an unequaled record of Vaishnava devotionalism 
in its formative stages. 29 

29. Hopkins, “The Vaishnava Bhakti Movement in the Bhagavata 
Purana,'’ summary in the introductory material. 

10 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

This interpretation seems to be too sociological. Although it 
brings to the fore literary evidence of an anti-Brahmanism, it 
does not account for the highly developed theological emphases 
of the Bhagavata. In addition the Bhagavata reveals a literary 
dependence upon the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa the Brahma 
Sutras (though not upon Samkara’s commentary 30 ), the Vis mi 
Purana, and the poems of the Alvars. The text abounds with 
references to the Vedas the Upanisads, and the Bhagavad Gita. 
These were apparently a greater part of the culture of South 
India, both Brahmanic, and non Brahmanic, than Hopkins 
allows. The Bhagavata is not peculiar or exceptional in its social 
teaching; other texts were equally anti-Brahmanic. 

J. A. B. van Buitenen points out that in “the labors of a 
Nathamuni, a Yamuna, a Ramanuja, we observe a consistent 
effort to promote the Sanskritization of the bhakti religion.” 31 In 
a similar way the author of the Bhagavata, roughly contempo- 
raneous with Nathamuni, was concerned to legitimize the text. 
Its first verse contains a reference to both the Brahma Sutras 
and to the Gayatri of the twice born. 32 Its use of language is 
often un-Paninian; it consistently presents an archaic Vedic 
flavor. Thus van Buitenen asks: “Why did the author or authors 
responsible for the final version of the Bhagavata want the book 
to sound Vedic ?” 33 His answer shows a very different provenance 
for the Bhagavata than does Hopkins:’ “we have a conspicuous 
concern to persuade others, if not oneself, of one’s orthodoxy, 
because it is based on the Veda... The Bhagavata' s point is: ‘I 
am not only orthodox in the Vedic tradition, I even sound like 

30. R. C. Hasra believes that Samkara knew of the Bhagavata Purana, 
although this is extremely doubtful, see New Indian Antiquary, I (November 
(1938), 522-28. Others, i.e., K. A. Nilakantha Sastri in A History of South 
India (London : Oxford University Press, 1958), p. 332, and C. V. Vaidya 
in “The Date of the Bhagavata Purana,” Journal of the Bombay Branch of 
the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series, I (1925), 148-53, assert that the 
Bhagavata knew and reacted to Samkara’s teaching. This too is doubtful as 
we shall show. 

31. van Buitenen, ‘‘On the Archaism of the Bhagavata Parana,” 
p. 33. 

32. 1.1.1. refers to the Brahma Sutras 1.1.2 : janmadyasya yatah / 

33. van Buitenen, ‘‘On the Archaism of the Bhagavata Parana,” p. 24. 

Introduction 1 1 

the Veda.” 34 Further in South India with its comparatively 
recent intermixture of Aryan withTamil influences, the Bhagavata 
movement with its devotion to the divine child Krsna was 
especially suspect among circles whose court of appeal was the 
most ancient Aryan Sanskrit texts and customs. “Writing in 
Sanskrit,” according to van Buitenen, “was not enough; to the 
faithful the supremacy of Krishnaism was hardly in doubt, but 
the high-sounding language (which often must have been 
unintelligible) gave appropriate notice of its Vedic orthodoxy.” 35 

W. G. Archer proposes a further nuance to the discussion 
about the orientation of the Bhagavata' s redactor. Of the two 
strands of the Krsna legend, Krsna as warrior prince and Krsrta 
as romantic cowherder lover, the warrior prince had been accom- 
modated into the mainstream of the emergent Hindu tradition 
considerably earlier than the romantic lover. At the time of the 
Bhagavata the romantic motif was still suspect, and was to re- 
main suspect in some circles for centuries to come. The Krsna 
of the Bhagavad Gita and of the Mahabharata was canonized in 
the tradition by the second century a.d. Ramanuja in the 
twelfth century and Madhva in the thirteenth century downplayed 
the romantic lover element in Krsna’s biography. Thus Archer 
hypothesizes that within the Bhagavata the editors, though includ- 
ing the scandalous episodes of Ktsna’s romances, were biased 
toward Krsna’s heroic exploits. As he says: “But there can be 
little doubt that its Brahman authors were in the main more 
favourably inclined towards the hero prince than towards the 
cowherd lover.” 36 This opinion is somewhat surprising, or 
perhaps ironic, since those acaryas who most valued the 
Bhagavata, Vallabha and Caitanya, based their teaching and 
devotion almost solely on Krsna as romantic lover. 

Each of these three views illustrates the difficulty in situating 
the Bhagavata. Hopkins correctly ascertains a strong heterodox 
teaching about Brahmanic religious practice. He is incorrect, 
however, in attributing this heterodoxy to the final redactor. 

34. Ibid., p. 31. 

35. Ibid., p. 38. 

36. W. G. Archer, The Loves of Krishna in Indian Painting and Poetry 
(London : George Allen and Unwin, 1957), p. 71. 




The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

Following van Buitenen’s linguistic evidence it seems that the 
final redactor was attempting to legitimize his devotion to Krsna 
by accenting the Bhagavata’ s Vedic qualities. Archer misjudges 
the situation. It is true that scandal was taken in certain circles 
at the stories of Krsna’s romances, for instance, among the Sri- 
Vaisnavas, but the redactor of the Bhagavata wrote the last of 
the Mahdpuranas, not the first of the Vaisnava commentaries on 
the Brahma Sutras. The genre itself encouraged inclusiveness 
and extravagance; the overwhelming preponderance of the tenth 
canto within the Bhagavata highlights rather than downplays 
Krsna as romantic lover. 

As a starting point for a study of the Bhagavata's theological 
and religious structure, the data of scholarship up to this time 
indicates that the actual writing of the Bhagavata was done within 
a group of learned ascetics, probably Brahmans, in the South 
who, while remaining steadfast to their tradition of devotion to 
Krsna, were attempting to legitimize that devotion within the 
broader Flindu tradition of the North. Their choice of the 
Puranic genre indicates that the narration of Krsna’s life story 
was important to them while at the same time the genre enabled 
them to collate their complex traditions. It also indicates that 
their teaching had not yet reached the stage where a systematics 
was possible, for example in a commentary on the BrahmaSutras. 
They had been heavily influenced by the Alvars, but not as much 
by the Pancaratras nor by the Sri-Vaisnavas— if that school had 
indeed reached any identity at that time. 

Puranic Genre 

At this point a discussion of the Puranic genre would be help- 
ful. Traditionally the Purana is defined as pahealaksana, having 
five characteristics. Thus the Matsya Purana gives the five charac- 
teristics as : (1) creation, (2) re-creation, (3) geneology of the 
gods, (4) the Manu-periods of time, and (5) histories of dynas- 
ties. 37 Of the extant Puranas, perhaps only the Visnu Purana 

37. Matsya Purana : sargasca pratisargasca vaniso manvantarani ca/ 
vamsanucaritan caiva puranam pancalaksanam// Cf. II. 10.1 : atra sargo 
visargasca sthanam posanamutayah/ manvantaresanukatha nirodho muktiras- 
rayah // 

conforms fully to this definition, although as topics each of the 
five characteristics is found within the Puranas. According to 
A. D. Pusalker, “ Pahcalaksana occupies but an insignificant 
part (about 1/40) of the extant Puranas ,” 38 The Bhagavata, 
however, relying on the Visnu Purana, acknowledges the five 
characteristics, 39 but it then expands the definition to ten charac- 
teristics. The ten are(l) creation in general ( sarga ), (2) the 
creation by Brahma ( visarga ), (3) maintenance of the creation 
( sthana ), (4) grace ( posana ), (5) desire ( uti ), (6) the Manu-periods 
of time ( manvantara ), (7) discourse on God ( isdnukatha, ), (8) the 
cosmic dissolution (nirodha), (9) liberation ( mukti ), and (10) 
support or resort ( dsraya). M The key addition is asraya (or 
apasraya), the support or Brahman toward which the other nine 
characteristics are aimed. “That from which creation and des- 
truction are definitely known to emerge is the resort which is 
called the Supreme Brahman, the Supreme Self, etc.” 41 

This expansion of the ‘five characteristics’ into ‘ten character- 
istics’ is pivoted on the tenth characteristic, Brahman (as ray a). 
It transforms the Purariic genre from one primarily interested in 
preserving ancient lore and legend into a genre capable of bear- 
ing the profoundest theological and religious import. At the 
same time the genre remains inclusive of that ancient lore and 
legend, which is now subordinated to a theological principle, 
Brahman. An investigation into the religious structure of the 
Bhagavata must bear primarily on the meaning and import of 
that Brahman and will concern the other nine characteristics 
insofar as they illuminate the import of Brahman. Thus the 
question can now be posed about the ultimate religious structure 
of the Bhagavata. In terms of a typological understanding of its 
teaching about Brahman, which of the three types of Hindu 
theology is it or does it tend to : abheda or identity (Srldhara) , 
bheda or difference (Madhva), or bhedabheda or difference-in- 
identity (Vallabha and the Caitanya school) ? This question can 

38. A. D. Pusalker, Studies in Epics and Puranas of India (Bombay : 
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, (1963), p. 23. 

39. Cf. XII. 7. 10b. 

40. II. 10.1 in note 37; cf. XII. 7.9-10. 

41. II. 10.7; abhasasca nirodhasca yatascadhyavasiyate/sa asrayali 
param brahma paramatmeti sabyate// 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 



be asked of the text both explicitly, that is, from its own teach- 
ing, and implicitly, that is, from its over-all import and meaning. 
The concern with its implicit religious structure is here more 
important because as a Purdna the Bhagavata is largely a compi- 
lation whose explicit texts subserve the implicit theological 
import presumed by its unitary authorship or redaction. 

Contents of the Bhagavata 

The Bhagavata is a combination of discursive teaching and 
narratives about the manifestations of Bhagavan. The narratives 
of cantos four through ten are framed by the didactic discourses 
of cantos one through three and of cantos eleven and twelve. 
Ostensibly the Purdna was written by Vyasa at Narada’s prompt- 
ing. It was related with additional comment by Suka, Vyasa’s 
son, to Suta, who recited it for the sages at Naimisaranya. 

In canto one Suta tells the sages how Vyasa came to compose 
the Purdna. There is a lengthy discourse on the merits of listen- 
ing to the glorious activities of the Lord and an enumeration of 
the manifestations ( avatara ) of Bhagavan. We hear the stories 
of Parlksit, Bhisma, and of Krsna’s disappearance from the 
world. The canto ends with Parlksit asking Suta questions to 
which the following eleven cantos are the response. 

Most of canto two is a discourse on a Samkhya scheme of 
creation and an enumeration of Bbagavan’s manifestations. The 
ten characteristics of a Purdna are mentioned in its final 

The third canto is related by Maitreya to Vidura. Maitreya 
tells Vidura about the qualities of the Supreme Truth and the 
nature of the individual self. An important part of the third 
canto is Kapila’s instructions to his mother Devahtitl concerning 
Samkhya, Yoga, and devotion. 

The fourth through ninth cantos contain many legends, typical 
of the Puranic genre, about Bhagavan’s manifestations and 
ancient dynasties. There are historical references throughout this 
material. Many of the tenets of the discourses of the other 
cantos are illustrated in these stories. Prahlada is described, for 
example, as a paradigmatic devotee. 

The tenth canto is the longest since it describes in detail the 
life of Bhagavan Krsna. It is divided into two parts. The first 

treats Krsna’s boyhood in Vrndavana and his erotic sports with 
v the cowherd girls. The second describes how Krsna overcame 

the tyrant Kamsa and his subsequent battles with Kalayavana, 
Jarasandha, and Salva. The Mahdbharata war is not treated in 
any detail in the Bhagavata. Chapter eighty-seven discusses the 
problem of the transcendence and immanence of Bhagavan. 

The eleventh canto again takes up the discourses left off in 
canto three. The characteristics of a devotee, of Saipkhya, and 
of the disciplines (yoga) of knowledge, action, and devotion are 
taught here. 

The twelfth canto continues the royal histories of canto nine. 
Then Parlksit prepares for his death, and Suka teaches him about 
Brahman and the Highest Truth. The origin of the Vedas is 
treated and the Purdna is concluded with a recapitulation of its 
contents. The Bhagavata at the end is acclaimed as the greatest 

Method of Redaction Criticism 

This study will therefore be a redaction criticism. It will seek 
to go beyond the questions of authorship, of the possible compo- 
site nature of the work, of the identity and extent of sources. 
Rather the theological meaning and religious structure of the 
whole, the finished product, is its main concern. Borrowing from 
contemporary Christian Biblical studies, this redaction criticism, 
in the words of Norman Perrin : 

... is concerned with the interaction between an inherited 
tradition and a later interpretive point of view. Its goals are 
to understand why the items from the tradition were modi- 
fied and connected as they were, to identify the theological 
motifs that were at work in composing a ‘finished Gospel’ 
[sc. Purdna ], and to elucidate the theological point of view 
which is expressed in and through the composition . 42 

A redaction criticism of the Bhagavata should show the genius 
of its Puranic genre in which an inherited tradition is brought to 
bear for its present purpose which is also pregnant with a 

42. Norman Perrin, What is Redaction Criticism ? (Philadelphia : Fort- 
ress Press, 1969), pp. vi-vii. 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

future development. The Purana is a mixture of historical 
reminiscence and legend, of interpreted tradition, of teachings 
borrowed for the purpose of corroboration and correlation, 
and, above all, of the free creativity of the author-redactor. 

This type of criticism forms the framework for the study which 
follows. Non-dualism is at the heart of the Bhagavata’ s vision 
of God. This non-dualism is qualified by a Samkhya assertion 
that the evolution of the universe is from a single principle. 
Devotion to Krsna provides a driving force for the vigor of this 
qualified non-dualism. Two varieties of devotion are contained 
in the Bhagavata : one reenforces the transcendence and inclu- 
sivity of Bhagavan, the other strengthens the reality of the 
devotee as an immanent form of the transcendent Deity. The 
major interpretations of the later theologians of the Bhagavata 
show how these trends could be developed by a theological 
tradition both in continuity and discontinuity with the original 

Thus each of the major forces and sources which determine 
the religious structure of the Bhagavata will be discussed. The 
Bhagavata at its moment in the history of Hinduism captured in 
a creative interaction the ideals and ideas which were religiously 
motivating both the saints and the common man. With non-dual- 
ism in the background and devotion to Bhagavan Krsna in the 
foreground, the Bhagavata sought to inspire the listener and to 
show him the coherent grandeur of its vision of a majestic God 
who contained within himself all the works of creation, who 
condescended to play among his creatures, all the while existing 
in a timeless majesty unsullied by any taint of imperfection. The 
Bhagavata is a literary masterpiece, although its genre is strange 
to Western taste, but more than that it is a religious document 
which is the dynamic force behind a long and glorious chapter in 
the religious history of the Indian people. 

Chapter II 


The Supreme Person 

An investigation of the teaching of the Bhagavata about non- 
dualism ( advaita ) is complicated by several factors, not the least 
of which is the nature of the Puranic genre, which by its inclu- 
siveness introduces differing names and terms for the Absolute, 
each with its own connotations. The Bhagavata usually relies on 
the variegated Vedantic vocabulary, but in addition it often uses 
a Samkhya terminology. There is no doubt of the Bhagavata’ s 
non-dualist emphasis, yet its precise import and meaning are not 
immediately clear. S. Dasgupta, perhaps too hastily, remarks that 
as “regards the position of God and His relation to the world the 
outlook of the Bhagavata-Purana is rather ambiguous.” 1 Non- 
dualism is prescribed differently of different subjects: Brahman, 
Atman, Bhagavan, Purusa, etc. Is the difference terminological? Yet 
through this ambiguity it is possible to perceive a single import. 
The Bhagavata itself states that it was written “for arriving at 
the accurate and real knowledge of the tenth charateristic,” that 
is, asraya . 2 Asraya means “that... on which anything depends 
or rests,” “thepersonor thing in whichany quality. inherent,” 3 
an asylum, refuge, source, or origin. In this context asraya is 
thus a synonym for Brahman or Bhagavan: “That from which 
creation and destruction are definitely known to emerge, is the 

1. Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, IV, 18. 

2. II. 10.2a: dasamasya visuddhyartham.. .laksanam/ 

3. Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Oxford : 
At the Clarendon Press, 1899), p. 158. 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

The Non-Dualism of the Bhagavata 


resort which is called the Highest Brahman, the Highest Self.” 4 
In another place Narada advises Vyasa to “recollect with con- 
centrated mind the various acts of the Lord with wide steps for 
liberation from all bondages.” 5 “Lord with wide steps” is an 
epithet of Vamana, an avatara of Visnu, by extension of Krsna, 
who is the Supreme Deity, the ‘support’ ( asraya ), to which all 
else in the narrative is subordinated. Hence an examination of 
passages about non-dualism will show that there is a complex, 
sometimes obscure, teaching that Brahman, Atman, Purusa, 
Bhagavan, etc. are non-dual. The question naturally arises: if 
the same quality is ascribed to these different subjects, are they 
identical ? If not, is there a consistent sense or pattern in the 
ascription ? Further, what ramifications does the perception, or 
deduction, of non-duality have for the apparent duality of God 
and the world, of individual self and the Highest Self ? 

The Bhagavata in several passages indicates that non-dualism 
means that there is only one real existent. In the course of a 
lengthy discourse by Brahma, who is the first created being 
derived from the Supreme Being, to Narada, Brahma sums up 
his insight into Bhagavan : “In this way, child, Bhagavan, the 
creator of all, has been described to you in brief. Whatever is 
sat or asat is not different from Hari.” 6 

In a context describing the creation of the world and the 
various manifestations of God within it, Brahma affirms Hari’s 
all-pervading singleness: outside of him there is nothing. If there 
is anything its reality must be derived or exist within the greater 
reality of Hari. Again in an address to Brahma, at the beginning 
of creation, when only Brahma had as yet been created, Visnu 
told him : “In the beginning, before the creation, I alone was in 
existence. There was nothing else — neither sat or asat nor their 
cause. After the creation of the universe what exists, is I. 1 am 
the universe. What remains is me.” 7 In this context Visnu’s 

4. II. 10.7 : abhasasca nirodhasca yatascadhyavaslyate/sa asrayah param 
brahma paramatmeti sabdyate// 

5. 1.5.13b: urukramasyakhilabandhamuktaye samadhinanusmara tadvi- 
cestitam // 

6. II.7.50 : so’yam te’bhihitastata bhagavanvisvabhavanah/ samasena 
harernanyadanyasmatsadasacca yat// 

7. II. 9.32 : ahamevasamevagre nanyadyatsadasatparam/pascadaham 

yadetacca yo’vasisyeta so’smyaham// 

existence is placed within a temporal sequence of sole existence, 
creation, maintenance, destruction, and then sole existence again. 
This special message, which is secret, was passed on to Brahma’s 
son, Narada, and thence to Vyasa, the author of the Bhagavata. 

In the third canto the sequence of creation is described within 
a discussion between Vidura and Maitreya. Brahma, after a 
hundred years of intense meditation, addresses Bhagavan Visnu: 
“Bhagavan, after a very long time you have been realized by me 
today. It is indeed the defect of beings conditioned by body that 
your essential nature is not realized by them. Nothing other 
than you exists. Anything else is not pure because it is you who 
appear to be many due to the mixture of the qualities by your 
creative energy.” 8 Here there is a sense of the simultaneity of 
Visnu, of his first created, Brahma, and also of the embodied 
beings who are yet to be created. Again creation is identified 
with the sole existent : “you who appear to be many.” The 
cause of plurality is Bhagavan’s creative energy (maya) which 
introduces it into the sole existent. Ignorance of Bhagavan’s 
non-duality is the disgrace of the embodied beings who have 
ignorance even though they are not yet manifest, still being in a 
subtle state. Nevertheless, even their ignorance does not sully 
Bhagavan’s purity of existence. 

In canto six Janardana (Krsna) revealed his form as the 
Supreme Person to the subordinate creator, Daksa : “O Brahman, 
contemplation is my heart, worship is my body, activity is my 
form, sacrifices well-performed are the members of my body, 
the merit resulting from such sacrifices is my mind, and the gods 
are my vital airs.” Here the only existent Self is described in 
moral terms. Before the creation he was the only existent in a 
state of inactivity : “In the beginning, I alone existed. There was 
nothing else as internal or external. I was pure consciousness 
and unmanifested. There was deep sleep everywhere.” 9 The one 

8. III. 9.1 : jilato’si mc’dya sucirannanu dehabhajam na jnayate bhaga- 
vato gatirityavadyam/nanyattvadasti bhagavannapi tanna suddharn maya- 

9. VI.4.46-47 : tapo me hrdayam brahmanistanurvidya kriyakrtili/ 
angani kratavo jata dharma atmasavah surah// ahamevasamevagre nanyat- 
kimcantaram bahih/ samjnanamatramavyaktam prasuptamiva visvatah // 

20 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

existent is a person, made up only of pure consciousness ( sam - 
jhana ), who kept back in an unmanifest state his infinite possibili- 
ties in a deep sleep. The activities and religious duties of 
embodied beings go on in some unmanifested, transcendental 
state within this eternal Person. This non-dual Person has 
unbounded possibilities for plurality 

After the death of Hiranyakasipu at the hands of the Man- 
Lion in the seventh canto, Prahlada addressed the Lord in his 
Man-Lion form: ‘‘You are air, fire, earth, sky, and water, the 
objects of the senses, the vital airs, the senses, heart, intellect and 
ego; everything possessed of qualities or devoid of qualities is 
you. There is nothing other than you even if conveyed by mind 
or speech, Lord.” 10 This eulogy is addressed to the Man-Lion by 
a demon, an enemy of God, but the language is of one within 
the created world, who sees the Lord in the things before him, yet 
realizes his transcendent nature. The Supreme Person, who is 
the only one, appears in the world as the objects of the world, 
both material and psychic. Non-duality here takes on the aspect 
of inclusiveness. What is, is the Lord. 

The One and the Many 

Non-duality does not mean that the sole existent being cancels 
out plurality. The Bhagavata has many passages in which non- 
duality is described as within the sphere of plural forms. In the 
seventh canto Narada tells Yudhisthira that not only those who 
love Bhagavan attain him but also those who hate him. This 
follows from the fact that the non-dual dwells within every crea- 
ture as its inner Self. Narada says that Bhagavan is one without 
a second. How then can the Supreme be violent or chastise his 
foes? The answer is that the mind should be fixed on him who 
is not other than oneself, thus love and hatred both bring about 
the same result: “A mortal may not achieve such an absorption 
into him through the discipline of devotion as through constant 
enmity; this is my conclusion.” 11 Liberation is grounded in non- 

10. VII. 9.48: tvam vayuragnirviyadambumatrah pranendriyani hrdayam 
cidanugrahasca/sarvarn tvameva saguno vigunascabhumannanyattvadastyapi 
manovacasa mruktam// 

, , VII. 1.26: yatha vairanubandhena martyastanmayatamiyat/ na tatha 
bhaktiyogena iti me niscita maith// 

The Non-Dualism of the Bhagavata 21 

duality, as well as plurality, which is a state of being unliberated. 
Fixed meditation on the Supreme Being, whether from love or 
hatred, brings about the realization of non-duality because he 
is the Self within all things. 

This is further illustrated in canto three in a Samkhya passage, 
which describes the non-duality of the one and the many as an 
appearance of being in non-being : “The sage attains the non- 
dual, which is distinct from the body, which appears as real 
in the unreal, which is friend to the real, which is the eye to 
the unreal, which is woven into everything.” 12 

The non-dual existent is within all that is relatively non-exist- 
ent in order to provide a basis for liberation. The non-dual 
appears in the non-existent and because it is its appearance it is 
bound to it. Though non-dual, it is ‘woven’ together with all 
that is many. Thus the many is only relatively non-existent. 

Identity is described in the Bhagavata as non-difference 
(abheda) . Usually non-difference refers to the relation of cause 
and effect. Those who really know Krsna see everything as a 
manifestation of him. There is nothing other than him because 
“of all things that exist their essence lies in their cause. Bhagavan 
Krsna is the cause of all these causes. Hence, what cause can be 
affirmed apart from him ?” 13 If cause and effect are identical, 
then Krsna, as cause of all that is, is identical with those effects. 
As cause of the various causes, Krsna becomes the real essence 
of all effects. Texts like these recall the Samkhya doctrine of 
satkdrya, the inherent presence of the effect in the cause, though 
this text goes considerably beyond that doctrine by premising 
non-difference to the extent of not even talking of effects apart 
from Krsna. 

A similar text is Hiranyakasipu’s eulogy of Brahma in canto 
three. This text is a little unusual for the Bhagavata in that it 
treats Brahma, who is the first created being and who in turn is 
the creator of all subsequent creation, as synonymous 
with the Supreme Deity. Brahma, rather than being an autono- 
mous creation, is considered as that aspect of the Deity which is 

12. : muktalingam sadabhasamasati pratipadyate/tato bandhu- 
masaccaksuh sarvanusyutamadvayam// 

13. X.14.57 : sarvesamapi vastunam bhavartho bhavati sthitah/ tasyapi 
bhagavankrsnafi kimatadvastu rupyatam // 

22 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purdna 

creative : “You are the immutable Self occupying the highest 
place, unborn, all-pervading, the supporter and controller of all 
living beings”. As the Highest Self Brahma pervades everything. 
The chain of causes can be traced back to him and thus nothing 
can be said to be totally distinct from him : “There is nothing 
apart from you, cause or effect, mobile or immobile; the sciences 
and their branches are your bodies, you are the golden womb 
of the universe, the great possessor of the three qualities.” 14 In 
comparison to the passage previously quoted, this text makes 
allowance for a greater diversity within the non-difference of the 
Supreme Deity. 

Narada in his coversation with Yudhisthira demonstrates how 
a reflection on non-difference yields three different aspects of 
non-dualism : 

The sage shaking off the three dream states (waking, 
dreaming, dreamless sleeping) through understanding him- 
self meditates on the non-duality of thought [ bhavadvaitam ], 
the non-duality of action [ kriyadvaitam ], and the non- 
duality of substance [ dravyadvaitam]. 

Examining the substantial unity of cause and effect, as in 
the weaving of cloth from thread since their diversity is unreal 
— this is called the non-duality of thought. 

O Partha, resigning all of one’s actions of mind, speech, 
and body, directly to the Highest Brahman — this is called 
the non-duality of action. 

Identifying one’s own interests and desires with that of one’s 
wife, children, etc. and of all other embodied beings — this is 
called non-duality of substance. 15 

14. VII.3.31b-32 kutastha atma paramesthyajo mahamstvam jivalo- 
kasya cajiva atma// tvattah param naparamapyanejadejacca kimcidvyatiri- 
ktamasti/ vidyakalaste tanavasca sarva hiranyagarbho’ si brhattriprstah// 

15. VII. 15.62-64 : bhavadvaitam kriyadvaitam dravyadvaitam tathat- 
manah/ vartayansvanubhutyeha trlnsvapnandhunute munih// karyakarana- 
vastvaikyamarsanam patatantuvat/ avastutvadvikalpasya bhavadvaitam 
taducyate// yadbrahmani pare saksatsarvakarmasamarpanam/ manovaktanu- 
bhih partha kriyadvaitam taducyate// atmajayasutadinamanyesam sarva- 
dehinam / yatsvarthakamayoraikyarn dravyadvaitam taducyate// 

The Non-Dualism of the Bhagavata 23 

Here in this marvelous summary of Vedantic teaching, the 
Bhagavata grounds its teaching concerning different kinds of 
actions ( pravrtta and nivrtta) in an ever-deepening insight into 
non-duality. The surrender of the fruits of one’s actions is called 
kriyadvaita or, as S. Bhattacarya says, “the spiritual act that 
discards the duality of pravrtta and nivrtta actions [ injunc- 
tions and prohibitions].” When this has been achieved, 
the non-duality of substance becomes possible, “an all-embrac- 
ing altruism which breaks through the dichotomy between ‘I’ 
and ‘mine’ on the one hand and the rest of the world on the 
other.” 10 These two modes of non-duality are ultimately resol- 
ved in the non-duality of thought in which the dichotomy 
between the single Cause and the world of plurality is dissolved 
in a vision of non-differenced unity. 

But what is this non-differenced, non-dual reality ? In certain 
passages the Bhagavata says that it is knowledge or conscious- 
ness itself. Thus in the first canto where the program for the 
Bhagavata is being laid out, Suta replies to the questions of the 
sages by pointing out that “the aim of life is inquiry into the 
Truth and not (the desire for enjoyment in heaven) by perform- 
ing religious rites. Those who possess the knowledge of the 
Truth call the knowledge of non-duality as the Truth ; it is called 
Brahman, the Highest Self, and Bhagavan.” 17 The non-duality of 
Truth or the reality ( tattva ) is such that no ultimate distinction 
between knower and knowledge can be made, though by giving 
the absolute reality different names, the Bhagavata affirms that 
the richness of absolute reality cannot be exhausted by con- 
sidering it from one angle only. With admitting any distinction 
within the absolute reality, the Bhagavata draws on various 
traditions to aid the understanding. The terms ‘Brahman’ and 
‘Highest Self’ are drawn from the Vedanta, while ‘Bhagavan’ 
is dear to the Vaisnavas. The final position given to Bhagavan 
seems to raise it above the other two in importance, and this is 
borne out by the Purdna as a whole. Thus non-dual knowledge, 

16. Bhattacarya, The Philosophy of the Srimad-Bhagavata , I, 267-68. 

17. T.2.10b-1 1 .* jivasya tattvajijnasa nartho yasceha karmabhih// vadanti 
tattattvavidastattvani yajjnanamadvayam/brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavaniti 

24 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

which is the essence of the absolute reality, is, according to 
the Bhagavata , ultimately personal. 

Again, when Brahma recites the primordial Bhagavata in the 
second canto to Narada, he asserts that thePurusa’s “real nature 
is absolute, real knowledge which is pure, underlying the interior 
of all, accurate, changeless and qualityless. Being the Truth, it 
is perfect, full, beginningless and endless, eternal and non- 
dual.” 18 

The personal nature of absolute reality and its non-duality 
are affirmed along with its identity with absolute knowledge 
(/<■ evalatfi jhanam) In the tenth canto Rukmini tells her husband 
Krsna that it is true that “you abide in the ocean (of the heart) 
as if afraid of the three qualities, being the Supreme Self of 
infinite pure consciousness.” 19 

The absolute reality is consciousness ( upalambhana ) and he 
resides in the heart of the devotee. He is a person, specifically 
Krsna, who is identified with the Wide-Strider, Visnu. 

The Absolute 'With' and ‘Without' Qualities 

The last two passages quoted refer to the non-dual as 
‘qualityless’ and ‘afraid of qualities’. There are any number of 
passages in the Bhagavata in which non-dualism is coupled with 
terms such as nirguna, aguna, arupa, etc. The question arises 
whether these can be taken in the sense of Samkara’s nirguna 
Brahman. According to T. S. Rukmani, “the philosophic 
teaching of the Bhagavata Purana stands nearer to Samkara’s 
system than to the theistic Samkhya which dominates the other 
Puranic works.” 20 However, an examination of passages which 
use these terms will reveal that they have a different import 
than Samkara’s nirguna Brahman. 

The above-mentioned texts 21 where Purusa and Atman are 
described as ‘qualityless,’ nirguna, both occur in contexts in 

18. II. 6. 39 : vasuddham kevalarn jiianam pratyaksamyagavasthitam/ 
satyam purnamanadyantam nirgunam nityamadvayam// 

19. X.60.35a: satyam bhayadiva gunebhya urukramantah sete samudra 
upalambhanamatra atrna/ 

20. Rukmani, A Critical Study of the Bhagavata Purana, p. 4. 

21. II. 6. 39 and X. 60. 35a. 

The Non-Dualism of the Bhagavata 25 

which the Supreme Deity, whether as Purusa or as Krsna, is 
engaged with a universe evolving from him. This association of 
what is without qualities with what has qualities is characteristic 
of the non-dualism of the Bhagavata. A number of texts illustrate 
this point. For example, in canto one Suta says that “this form of 
Bhagavan, who indeed has no form, consisting of consciousness, 
has been created in the Self through the qualities of his creative 
energy, the Great Principle, etc. 22 He who has no form is capable 
of assuming form for his own purposes. The lack of form is 
related to his essential nature as consciousness, which is un- 
touched ultimately by his own work in creation. Further a 
Samkhya-like scheme of creation-emanation is implied in the 
use of the concepts of ‘creative energy’ ( mdya ) and the ‘Great 
Principle’ (mahat ) . The qualities ( guna ) are the constituents, 
though noumenal, of the created universe, and by definition are 
not related to the essence of the Absolute. The qualities are 
used by the Absolute’s creative energy: “Though he is quality- 
less, he, through his creative energy, has assumed the three 
qualities, namely, sattva, rajas, and tamas, for the maintenance, 
creation, and dissolution (of the universe)”. 23 The universe is 
placed within Narayana, who accepts the qualities for its 
creation. 24 In canto eight Brahma when eulogizing Hari 
says that he is the infinite one: “you are without qualities, 
and yet are master of all qualities, and who are established 
in sattva. 25 In the latter passage Hari is beyond description 
and devoid of qualities. The lack of qualities puts him 
beyond his own creation and leaves him uncontaminated, 
yet master of those qualities. The lack of qualities does not 
mean that the absolute reality is nothing, rather that 
he is incomprehensible. Nor does it signify that the Supreme 
Deity lacks anything. This description of nirguna does not 
indicate that Purusa, Atman, Hari, or Bhagavan, when so 
described are equal to Samkara’s nirguna Brahman since their 

22. 1.3.30 : etadrupam bhagavato hyarupasya cidatmanah/ mayagunair- 
viracitam mahadadibhiratmani // 

23. II. 5. 18 : sattvaip rajastama iti nirgunasya gunastrayah/ sthitisarga- 
nirodhesu grhlta mayaya vibhoh// 

24. Cf. II.6.30. 

25. VlII.5.50b : nirgunaya gunesaya sattvasthaya ca sarnpratam// 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Pin ana 

The Non-Dualism of the Bhagavata 


relation to Brahman with qualities or to his creative energy is 
never described as based purely and simply on an essential 
ignorance ( avidya ). The relation of the Absolute to the qualities 
or to the creative energy is usually described as that of 
possession, and there is nowhere a disclaimer that these 
statements are a concession to the individual’s limited capacity 
to understand. The Bhagavata' s own particular use of ‘creative 
energy’ ( mdya ) and ignorance ( avidya ) will be examined in 
greater detail further on. 

It is by no means insignificant that the opening verse of the 
Bhagavata relates the absolute reality, Brahman, to creation. 
Here in what S. Dasgupta calls “probably the most important 
passage in the Bhagavata ,” 26 the highest truth is indissolubly 
linked to the phenomenal world of creation, which is described 
as ‘not false’ (, amrsa ) : 

Him from whom is the creation, etc. of this (universe), 
inferred by positive and negative concomitance in things; 
all-knower, self-luminous; who revealed to the heart of the 
First Sage the Vedas; about whom the sages are confused; 
in whom the threefold evolution is real as is the transform- 
ation (exchange) of fire, water earth; by his own strength 
(in his own abode) always free from deception; the True, 
the Supreme, on Him we meditate . 27 

Though this verse has been interpreted to mean that creation 
through the three qualities is false, its most obvious sense is 
precisely the opposite. Since the Lord is self-luminous ( svarat ) 
and free from deception, creation has reality from his reality. As 
Suta tells the sages: “Just as one (same) fire permeates the pieces 
of wood from which it is created, so the Person, the Self of the 
universe, appears in different things .” 28 As the source of every- 
thing that is, the Person permeates all things as their inner Self 
( atman ). 

26. Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, IV, 33. 

27. 1.1.1 : janmadyasya yato’nvayaditaratascarthesvabhijnah svarat 
tene brahma hrda ya adikavaye muhyanti yatsurayah/tejovarimrdam yatha 
vinimayo yatra trisargo’ mv?a dhamna svena sada nirastakuhakam satyarn 
param dhimahi// 

28. 1.2.32 : yatha hyavahito vahnirdarusvekah svayonisu / naneva bhati 
visvatma bhutesu ca tatha puman// 

The Bhagavata ' s non-dualism in these creation passages 
sometimes equates, while immediately qualifying that equation, 
the universe with Bhagavan, who is “indeed the universe, yet 
different from it; from him is the creation, destruction, and 
maintenance of the world .” 29 In canto eight Siva praised Hari 
for being “god of gods, pervader of the universe, the Lord of 
the universe, consisting of the universe. You are the Self, the 
cause and the controller of all things. ..The Brahman from 
which proceeds, the beginning, middle, and end of this (uni- 
verse), but who being unchangeable is not affected by these; who 
constitutes this, the external thing as well as ‘I’, the other .” 30 It 
is as if the Bhagavata were searching for metaphors and con- 
cepts to describe its ineffable vision of the relation of the Absolute 
with the created world. Thus here there is a non-duality of 
Brahman, who is truth and consciousness, and that which is 
other, the universe and the individual self. Another apt 
metaphor occurs in canto eight when Hiranyakasipu says 
that the visible universe is the body of the Lord by which he 
enjoys the qualities, mind, the vital airs and the senses, although 
“remaining all the while established in your original exalted state. 
You are the umnanifest Self and the most ancient Person .” 31 
The Lord as Self pervades the universe as a soul pervades 
the body. The body is part of, although distinct from, the 
whole person. Just so the world is part of, although distinct 
from, the totality which is Bhagavan. 

One of the most celebrated incidents narrated in the Bhagavata 
is in canto ten where Yasoda reprimands the child Krsna for 
eating dirt while at play. Krsrta says that he had not eaten dirt 
and opened his mouth to show his mother. Inside she saw the 
entire universe, the mountains, oceans, the heavens, stars, and 
lightning. She saw not only the material world, but also the 
psychic world, the senses, the mind, the objects of the senses, 
and the three qualities. ‘‘At the same time she saw in his 

29. 1. 5. 20a : idam hi visvam bhagavanivetaro yato jagatsthana- 
n i rod hasarn bhavah / 

30. VIII. 12.4-5 : devadeva jagadvyapin jagadisa jaganmaya/ sarye'samapi 
bhavanam tvamatraa heturisvarah// adyantavasya yanmadhyamidamanya- 
daharn bahih/yato ’vyayasya naitani tatsatyam brahma cidbhavan// 

31. VII. 3. 33b : bhunkse sthito dhamani paramesthya avyakta atma 
purusah puranah// 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

wide open mouth the variegated universe, divided into 
individual selves, time, their inherent tendency and inherited 
destiny, the seed of action, along with Vraja and herself, 
and she was seized with terror.” She realized that her 
son was the Lord. He then ‘‘cast the creative energy of Visnu 
so that she again felt affection for her son .” 32 She lost her 
knowledge of the Self and took her son on her lap. Such is the 
awesome lordship of Bhagavan, the awesome knowledge of the 
great mystery of Bhagavan’s relation to the universe, that 
mere mortals may not bear to know of it casually. 

Thus the Bhagavata illustrates the ineffable non-duality of 
Krsna, who is beyond the qualities, yet as their source, possesses 
them within himself. He is both nirguna, without qualities, and 
saguna, with qualities. This non-duality is usually just asserted 
and apparently contradictory statements are juxtaposed para- 
doxically. The mere mortal, such as Yasoda, is stricken with 
terror at the immense mystery of the Lord’s nature, which 
creates multiplicity within his own unity. 

Non-dualism and the Self 

The same mysterious non-duality grounds the relation of the 
Highest Self ( Paramdtman ) and the individual self ( jivatman ) . 
The identity of the Highest Self and the individual self is the 
central teaching of the Upanisads and the Vedanta, where it is 
repeatedly stressed and explained by numerous examples and 
affirmed in countless texts. The Bhagavata is clearly in this 
tradition: “That from which creation and destruction are defini- 
tely known to emerge is the resort which is called the Highest 
Brahman, the Highest Self .” 33 In the third canto Maitreya tells 
Visnu that he is one, the first of beings, the Self and the Lord of 
selves. “Truly, he was then this Seer and the only illuminator, 
he saw nothing.” There was a time when he did not in-vision the 
universe. He thought that it was non-existent since his power 

32. X. 8. 39,43b : etadvicitrarp saha jivakalasvabhavakarmasayalinga- 
bhedam/ sunostanau vlksya vidaritasye vrajam sahatmanamavapa sankam // 
...vaisnavliri vyatanonmayarn putrasnehamayirp vibhuh// 

33 11.10.7 : abhasasca nirodhasca yatascadhyavasiyate/ sa asrayah 
param brahma paramatmeti sabdyat e// 

The Non-Dualism of the Bhagavata 


was asleep, although deep within him his sight was intact: “That 
is truly the power of this Seer which is of the nature of both 
actual cause and potential effect. It is called the creative energy. 
It is by this power, that the all-pervading Lord created the uni- 
verse .” 34 This passage is pregnant with meaning. Bhagavan, the 
Self, was alone, although according to the Hindu cyclic under- 
standing of time, which is inherent to God, his aloneness has 
been preceded by a time of creation, and that by a time of 
aloneness in an eternal pattern. By his own power the individual 
self did not exist phenomenally, but since this power has two 
phases, actual cause (yat)and potential effect (asat), the individual 
self in a certain sense eternally exists, whether manifest or un- 
manifest, within the Godhead. Bhagavan’s power of vision 
continues even when his power is quiescent. The Self’s power, 
his creative energy {may a), brings forth both the material uni- 
verse and the individual self. The Supreme Self is one, both when 
in a state of quiescence and when in a state of manifestation. 

In the sixth canto Hari tells Citraketu that he is the Self, the 
creator of living beings. The Veda and Brahman are his forms. 
“One should understand that his own Self is pervading the 
whole of the universe and that the universe is resting on the 
Self and that both are pervaded by me.” Just as a man 
who is asleep and dreams that the world is inside him, 
but when he wakes up he realizes that he is lying in a bed| 
so he should consider his waking states as the products of 
Bhagavan’s creative energy. “Recognize me to be the Self or 
Brahman through which a person in a sleeping condition, regards 
himself as in a deep sleep. I am absolute bliss without qualities or 
senses. 35 The Self and Brahman are equivalent, both ground the 
manifest universe and the manifest selves. The universe as well 
as the individual self have a spiritual source and are ultimately 

34. III.5.24a-25 : sa va esa tada drasta napasyaddrsyamekarat/ va 
etasya samdrastuh saktih sadasadatmika/ maya nama mahabhaga yayedam 
nirmame vibhuh// 

35. VI. 16.52,55 : loke vitatamatmanani lokam catmani samtatam/ 
ubhayam ca maya vyaptam mayi caivobhayam krtam//...yena prasuptah 
puru^ah svapam vedatmanastada/ sukhani ca nirgunam brahma tamatmana- 
mavehi mam// 

30 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavta Purana 

the Self. Here the Upanisadic speculation on the continuity of 
the different states of waking, dreaming, etc. is recalled. 

The non-duality of Self and individual self can be realized by the 
sages through a process of devotion based on knowledge and 
detachment. If they believe in that non-duality, they will find it 
within their own self. 36 This recognition of the Self within the 
individual self can be achieved by listening to the Veda. Thus 
the Bhagavata emphasizes devotion with knowledge and detach- 
ment subordinated to it. 

In canto four, after a long process of meditation and penance, 
the royal saint Malayadhvaja accepted Hari for his preceptor. He 
perceived the Self within his heart, “who is the witness of the 
mind.” He saw that it was all pervading, in all things, and that 
all things were in it : “He realized himself as within the Highest 
Brahman and that the Highest Brahman was within himself. He 
then gave up even this consciousness and left the world.” 37 
Though manifested in and through the body, the Self is different 
from it. There are degrees of manifestation and because of this 
the individual self must pursue the highest Self where it is most 
manifest, in the interior of the individual self. Eventually it leaves 
off all manifestations and directs itself solely to its non-duality 
with the Highest Self. Knowledge of the Highest Self gives the 
devotee a sense of intimacy with him and accomplishes absorp- 
tion into the Highest Self. Knowledge of the identity of the Self 
and the individual self removes the delusion that they are different 
in any ultimate sense. 38 Just as the Self diffused itself in the act of 
creation so it comes back to itself in the liberation of the indivi- 
dual self. Liberation is possible only because of the identity of 
the Highest Self and the individual self. It is a realization and 
return to a knowledge of what is real, leaving behind what is 
less real by means of a discipline of devotion combined with 
knowledge and detachment. 

37. IV.28.40,42 : sa vyapakatayatmanarp vyatiriktatayatmani/ vidvan- 
svapna ivamarsasaksinam virarama ha//. ..pare brahmani catmanarn param 
brahma tathatmani/viksamano vihayeksamasmadupararama ha/ / 

38. Cf. 1.9.42. 

The Non- Dualism of the Bhagavata 31 

Bhagavan' s Creative Energy 

Lest, however, the teaching of the non-duality of the Highest 
Self and the individual self seem to completely nullify the reality 
of the created world, the Bhagavata stresses in some passages a 
positive interpretation of non-dualism. In canto one Narada 
tells Yudhisthira: “O King, this universe is the self-manifesting 
Bhagavan. He is one, the self of selves. He shines internally and 
externally. Look, he is manifold due to his creative energy.” 39 
This text, while affirming the non-duality of the created world 
and the Highest Self, interposes an intermediary force or power 
between the Self and the individual self and the world, namely, 
Bhagavan’s creative energy (mayd ) . In many non-dualism texts, 
the creative energy is mentioned as a cause or motive for crea- 
tion. It seems that the Bhagavata uses this concept to explain 
the origin of the phenomenal selves and the phenomenal world, 
while maintaining their ultimate non-duality with the absolute 
reality, Bhagavan, who is unsullied by the act of creation. An 
examination of the Bhagavata ' s use of the concept 'mayd' is also 
important because nidya is an important concept in the system of 
Samkara. 40 If there is any dependence of the Bhagavata upon 
Samkara, or a related teaching, it should be revealed in its use of 

In the third canto Vidura asks Maitreya: “Q Brahman, how 
is it possible that qualities and activities can be predicated of 
Bhagavan, who is pure consciousness, without qualities and 
changeless, even by way of sport ?” In other words how could a 
transcendent Deity be associated with the phenomenal universe? 
It is the desire in a child which propels it to play, and that 
desire comes from something else, but how for Bhagavan, who is 
self-satisfied and who is ever without a second. Bhagavan created 
the universe by his creative energy consisting of the qualities. 
It is by the creative energy that he sustains it and with- 
draws it. The Self is essentially knifvledge and unaffected by 

39. 1.13.47 : tadidarn bhagavanrajanneka atmatmanarri svadrk/ antaro’ 
nantaro bhati pasya tarpmayayorudha// 

40. Paul Hacker in “Relations of Early Advaitins to Vaisnavism,” 
Wiener Zeitschrift fur die Kunde Siid-md Ost-asiens und Archiv fur indische 
Philosophic, IV (1965), 147-48, suggests that Samkara worked in a Vaisnava 
milieu in which various forms of advaila were studied. 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

The Non-Dualism of the Bhagavata 


place, time, or condition either internally or externally. How 
can such a Self be united with the unborn (maya) ?” 41 There is 
no doubt in Vidura’s mind that maya is the cause of the creation 
of the universe, but the Lord is of the nature of consciousness, is 
immovable, and without qualities. Can the two really be associat- 
ed ? Suka here interjects that they are incompatible and that 
their association is paradoxical: “It is the creative energy of 
Bhagavan, which is against all logic. Hence the affliction and 
bondage to (the soul who is essentially) free from bondage ” 42 
Because of this creative energy the individual self has the appear- 
ance of being bound, even though the bondage is unreal. The un- 
real, gets confused with the real, the less real with the ultimately 
real, and the dependent with the independent. The individual 
self in the world, founded on the creative energy of Bhagavan, is 
unreal, less real, or dependent, according to one's perspective. 
The Lord is ultimately real and independent. The source of the 
confusion is creative energy (mayo), which is the mediating 
principle of the Bhagavata between the formless Lord and the 
formed universe, allowing and preserving the non-duality of 
Bhagavan and also the reality of the universe. 43 

The creative energy produces the three constituent qualities 
(guna), which are the noumenal starting point for the evolution 
of all' phenomenal forms: “Though, without qualities, he, 

through his creative energy, has assumed the three qualities, 
being, activity, and inertia, for the maintenance, creation, and 
dissolution (of the universe).” 44 

A significant description of the creative energy is given in 
canto two when Bhagavan summarizes the Bhagavata in four 
verses : 

4] . III.7.2-5 : brahma nkatham bhagavatascinmatrasyavikarinah/ lilaya 

capi yujyerannirgunasya gunah kriyah// kridayamudyamo’rbhasya kamas- 
cikridisanyatah/ svatastrptasya ca katham nivrttasya sada’ nyatah// asraksid- 
bhagavanvisvam gunamayyatmamayaya/ taya samsthapayatyetadbhuyah 
pratyapidhasyati// desatah kalato yo’savavasthatah svato’nyatah/ avilu- 
ptavabodhatma sa yujyetajaya katham// 

42. III.7.9 : seyam bhagavato maya yannayena virudhyate/ isvarasya 
vimuktasya karpanyamuta bandhanam // 

43. Cf. 1.3,30. 

44. II.5.18 ; sattvam rajastama iti nirgunasya gunastrayah/ sthitisarga- 
nirodhesu grhita mayaya vibhoh // 

In the beginning, before the creation, I alone was in exist- 
ence. There was nothing else — neither the subtle nor the 
gross nor their cause. After the creation of the universe what 
exists is 1. 1 am the universe. What remains is myself. 

That should be known as my creative energy on account 
of which there appears existence, despite its non-existence 
as independent reality, as in the case of false appearance, as 
in the case of the eclipsed planet Rahu. 

Just as the gross elements which may be said to have entered 
into created things, great or small, may be said not to have 
entered into them, similarly, I am in the elements as well as 
the creation from the elements, and also not in them. 

This much should be understood by him who desires to 
know the reality about the Self, the existence of which every- 
where and at all times is inferred by positive and negative 
concomitance. 45 

Here the theory of the creative energy is tied into the doctrine of 
non-dualism. Through the entire process of creation, etc. 
Bhagavan is alone, yet because of the creative energy, a reflection 
or shadow makes its appearance. This appearance, in itself unreal, 
is real in its derivation from Bhagavan. He is in the appearance 
to the extent that it is real and not in it to the extent it is unreal. 
Verse thirty-three has been taken as a definition of the creative 
energy (maya) : “That on account of which there appears exist- 
ence, despite its non-existence as an independent reality.” 48 Yet, 
out of context, this definition allows a greater unreality to the 
evolutes of the creative energy of Bhagavan than there should be 
for one who inquires into what exists at all times and in every 
place (sarvatra and sarvada). 

( 45. II.9. 32-35 : ahamevasamevagrenanyadyatsadasatparam/ pascadahanr 
yadetacca yo’vasisyeta so’smyaham // rte‘rtham yatpratiyeta na pratlyeta 
catmani / tadvidyadatmano mayam yathabhaso yatha tamah// yatha mahanti 
bhutani bhutesuccavacesvanu/ pravistanyapravistani tatha tesu na tesvaham // 
etavadevajijnasyam tattvajijnasunatmanah/ anvayavyatirekabhyam yatsyat- 
sarvatra sarvada // 

46. II.9.33a : rte’rtham yatpratiyeta na pratlyeta catmani/ 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 


Energy As Power (sakti) 

Another important description of the creative energy is as a 
power (sakti) of Bhagavan: “That is truly the power of this 
Seer which is of the nature of both actual cause and potential 
effect. It is by this power, that the all-pervading Lord created the 
universe .” 47 The same identification is made in canto eight where 
Manu prays : “By his own power, which is uncreated he brings 
about the creation, etc. of the universe. By his eternal knowledge, 
he sets this power aside and remains actionless .” 48 Here there is 
a two-fold nature within Bhagavan. One, the power, is creative, 
the other, knowledge, the innermost essence, rests unmoved. 
Thus the power is the capacity of Bhagavan for being external, 
while in a truer and deeper sense, his inferiority is unchanged 
and motionless. In another passage the term sakti is used of both 
the interior and the exterior potentialities of Bhagvan, who is 
“endowed with power of consciousness and of unconsciousness, 
by whose infinite and unmanifest form all this is pervaded .” 49 
The power of consciousness is his interior, unchanging essence 
and the power of unconsciousness is his creative energy, which 
brings forth the creation of the universe. These two powers by 
working together constitute the process of the cyclic manifesta- 
tion and non-manifestation of Bhagavan. 

In many places the Bhagavata personifies the first creation of 
the creative energy as Brahma, who is the personal aspect of the 
creative Deity. Through Brahma the Bhagavata' s abstractions 
are given a mythical form. Thus in canto one Suta tells the sages 
that when the Purusa was sleeping on the causal waters “Brahma 
the head of the creators of the universe, was born of the lotus of 
the lake-like navel of the Lord lying on the waters extending his 
yogic slumber .” 50 This theme of Brahma being self-sprung from 
the naval of Visnu is the basis for the title ‘unborn’ and is 

47. III. 5.25 : sa vaetasya samdrastuh saktih sadasadatmika/maya nama 
mahabhaga yayedam nirmame vibhuh// 

48. VIII. 1.13b : dhatte’sya janmadyajayatmasaktya tarp vidyayodasya 
nirlha aste/// 

49. VII.3.34 : anantavyaktarupena yenedamakhilani tatam/ cidacic- 
chaktiyuktaya tasmai bhagavate namah// 

50. 1.3.2 : yasyambhasi sayanasya yoganidrarp vitanvatafi/ nabhih- 
radambujadasldbrahma visvasrjam patih// 

The Non-Dualism of the Bhagavata 

common in the Purdnas. After a long meditation he discovers that 
as the first to be created he is to be responsible for the rest of 
creation, though under the influence of the creative energy . 61 
Yet sages mistake Brahma for the Lord under the delusive 
suggestion of the creative energy. Brahma, in canto two, corrects 
Narada: “I manifest the universe, which is already manifested 
by his self-manifestation, just as the sun, fire, moon, constella- 
tions, planets and stars shine due to his splendor... We meditate 
on him deluded by whose creative energy people call me the 
guru of the universe .” 62 

The Bhagavata extends its concept of creative energy beyond 
being merely creative. It functions within the sphere of human 
affairs as a salvific means to the Lord. To the extent that the 
creation by the creative energy is unreal the devotee takes no 
delight in it, but to the extent that it is real he is not repulsed by 
it. The universe created by the creative energy is somthing both 
to be enjoyed and to be emancipated from, maya being creative 
first of all and then delusive . 63 The delusive quality of the 
energy obscures the nature of the reality of the universe : 
“We, whose intellects are obscured by his creative energy, think 
that we comprehend the created universe according to our capa- 
city of knowledge .” 54 Speculation is vain because it too is under 
the influence of maya, the energy of Bhagavan, which, while 
creative, serves his inscrutable purpose. 

Yogic Energy 

When the Lord wishes to enter into his own creation, which 
is not reality apart from him, being the product of his creative 
energy,^ he draws on a special form of his energy, the mysterious 
yogamdyd. Yogamdyd features prominently in the Bhagavata, 
which is chiefly concerned with narrating the different mani- 
festations and appearances of Bhagavan. Yogamdyd is that 

51. Cf. II.2.1. 

52. II. 5. 11,12b: yena svarocisa visvam rocitam rocayamyaham/ 
yatha’rko’gniryatha sorao yatharksagrahatarakah//. . .dhfmahi/ yanma- 
yaya durjayaya mam bruvanti jagadgurum// 

53. Cf. XI.3.3. 

54. . II. 6. 36b : tanmayaya mohitabuddhayastvidani vinirmitam catmasa- 
mam vicaksmahe// 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhdgavata Purana 

The Non-Dualism of the Bhdgavata 


aspect of the creative energy which undercuts its delusive 
aspects. This yogic energy, which is concerned with the appear- 
ance of Bhagavan as an avatara, presupposes his metaphy- 
sical presence through his creative energy. That he should enter 
the human sphere presumes in some sense that this presence 
through the creative energy is insufficient for his purposes. The 
individual self is limited, its self-understanding obscured by 
ignorance, yet it is called to devotion to Bhagavan. This call is 
based upon a divine presence in the universe beyond his creative 
sustenance of material beings and his identity with the individual 
self, both of which are the product of the creative energy. The 
Bhdgavata postulates a further form of energy ( maya ), that is, 
the yogic energy (yogamaya), which enables Bhagavan to come 
into contact with his parts, the individual selves, in a human 
or personal form as the avatara. 

The main purpose of the creation by the creative energy is to 
provide a stage, as it were, for the playful sports {lila) of 
Bhagavan. As Maitreya says in canto three: “Now I shall re- 
count indue order the sports of Bhagavan, unfolded by his yogic 
energy for the purposes of the maintenance, creation, and dissolu- 
tion of the universe .” 85 Here the creation, etc. is in some 
manner connected with the appearance of Bhagavan. The yogic 
energy, even at the time of the general creation, foresaw the 
ultimate appearance of Bhagavan in the midst of creation. By 
means of his yogic energy Krsna graces the universe with the 
beauty of his form: “It was a form useful for the sports of 
his human forms, a power of his yogic energy. It was the 
peak of perfect beauty and sublimity, its limbs beautified its 
ornaments, a wonder even to him .” 56 In the same way in canto 
ten, Bhagavan is compassionate to Siva’s foolishness when he 
granted Vrkasura the power to destroy whatever he touched. 
In order to rescue Siva from this dilemma, Bhagavan ‘‘assumed 
the form of a boy by means of his yogic energy and 

55. III. 5. 22 : atha te bhagavallila yogamayopabrmhitah/ visvasthityu- 
dbhavantartha varnayamyanupurvasah// 

56. III.2.12: yanmartyalllaupayikarn svayogamayabalam darsyata 
grhltam/ vismapanam svasya ca saubhagarddhehparam padani bhusa- 

manifested himself at a distance .” 57 Thus theyogic energy enables 
Bhagavan to help his creatures. It is especially connected with 
Krsna’s appearance among the cowherd girls of Vrndavana. 
When Krsna was born of Devalci in Mathura, in order to protect 
him from the wrath of Kamsa, his yogic energy took his place. 
Similarly, his yogic energy was born as a girl to Yasoda in 
Vraja, and Vesudeva switched her with Krsna, in order to 
protect Krsna. Just as Kamsa was about to kill her, the ‘yogic 
energy’, the younger sister of Krsna, “rose to heaven with eight 
mighty arms equipped with weapons .” 68 His yogic energy 
assumes forms at opportune times to help Krsna, but its most 
celebrated assistance to Krsnia takes place during the ecstatic 
play ( rdsalila ) of Krsna with the cowherd girls in the tenth 
canto: “On those nights adorned with blooming autumnal 
jasmines, glorious Bhagavan decided to sport, supported by his 
yogic energy .” 59 This yogic energy is responsible for the extra- 
ordinary aura surrounding these events. The ecstatic play takes 
place in a half-real, half-magic realm. Krsna is the master of 
yogic power. He is called a yogin, yogesvara, a master of yoga, 
and a yogesvaresvara , a master of the masters of yoga . 60 By 
means of his yogic energy, Krsria replicates himself and dances 
personally with each of the many cowherd girls simultane- 
ously . 61 Krsna’s playful pastimes are for his own pleasure and 
that of his creatures. Non-dualism is preserved by the mediation 
of this special form of the creative energy, the yogic energy which 
manifests Bhagavan on the basis of the creation by the creative 
energy. The same energy which creates also maintains not just 
the existence but also the purity of Bhagavan’ s creation. By 
means of the creative energy Bhagavan guarantees justice. Finally 
the creative energy allows Bhagavan to sport in an unrestrained 
revelry without in any way marring his pure non-dualism. 

57. X.88.27 : tanr tathavyasanarn drastva bhagavanvrjinardanah/ durat- 
pratyudiyadbhtjtva batuko yogamayaya // 

58. X.4.9 : sa taddhastatsamutpatya sadyo devyambaram gata / adr£ya- 
tanuja visnoh sayudhastamahabhuja// 

59. X.29.1 : bhagavanapitaratrihSaradotphullamallikah/ viksya ranturp 
manascakre yogamayamupasritah// 

60. Cf. X.29.16 and X.29.42. 

61. Cf.X.33.3. 

38 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

Illusion and Bondage 

Though maya is very often translated and thought of as 
illusory energy or illusion, the citations from the Bhagavata thus 
far have indicated that it should be thought of primarily as 
creative energy, and in certain contexts, as yogic energy. How- 
ever, the Bhagavata does use maya in its sense as illusion, 
though the context never allows it to be regarded as separate 
from its source in Bhagavan. 

In canto four Bhrgu says that self-knowledge is obscured by 
Bhagavan’s illusory energy (maya): “Brahma and other embo- 
died beings have been deprived of knowledge of Self by the 
impenetrable creative energy and sleep in darkness ; they do not 
know your real nature which permeates their own self. 62 In 
canto three Maitreya tells Vidura that bondage is due to the 
creative energy: “It is the creative energy of Bhagavan, which is 
against all logic. Hence the affliction and bondage to (the soul 
who is essentially) free from bondage.” 63 Because of the creative 
energy the individual self appears to be bound, just as a man 
might see himself beheaded in a dream, but there is really no 
bondage. The bondage is rooted in the creative energy, which 
allows ignorance to obscure Bhagavan’s creation of the universe. 
The creative energy has its own purposes and thus grants or 
withholds liberating knowledge. Both bondage and liberation 
are grounded in the same reality. As Krspa tells Uddhava in 
canto eleven : “O highly intelligent, although I am one, it is in 
relation to the individual self that the eternal bondage exists 
due to ignorance, the opposite state due to knowledge.” 64 
Because of his non-dual nature, Bhagavan, being beyond change, 
is above bondage and liberation, but his forms, the individual 
selves created by his creative energy, succumb to bondage and 
liberation as he wishes. A return to Bhagavan of his evolved 

62. IV.7.30 : yanmayaya gahanayapahrtatmabodha brahmadayastanu- 
bhrtastamasi svapantah/ natman sritam tava vidantyadhunapi tattvam 
so’yam prasidatu bhavanpranatatmabandhuh// 

63. III.7.9 : seyarp bhagavato maya yannayena virudhyate/ isvarasya 
vimuktasya karpanyamuta bandhanam// 

64. XI. 11. 4 : ekasyaiva mamamsasya jivasyaiva mahamate/ bandho’ 
syavidyaya’nadirvidyaya ca tathetarah// 

The Non-Dualism of the Bhagavata 39 

forms, the individual selves is premised upon a greater realiza- 
tion of their non-duality with the Lord. This is accomplished by 
a negation or retraction of the creative energy. 65 Then birth and 
death and rebirth will be no more and liberation is accomplished: 
“He is realized as the highest bliss of meditation by the negation 
of the creative energy which creates all distinctions and differ- 
ences.” 66 

This discussion of the different texts on the role of the creative 
energy serves to illustrate the complexity of the relation between 
Bhagavan, the universe, and the individual self. However, it is 
clear that the Bhagavata does not use maya in the same sense 
that Samkara and the mayavadins do. The language and similies 
used are similar because both drew on the Upanisads and 
Vedantic material for their sources. This question is summariz- 
ed by T. Hopkins : 

The relation of maya to the supreme being is stressed in 
the Bhagavata, in contrast to the later denial of any onto- 
logical connection. The phenomenal world is the definite 
creation of Bhagavan, the highest soul or Brahman, who 
creates the world in sport by his power of maya. The 
world is like a dream only in the sense that it is dependent 
on a creator without whom it would not exist; it is insub- 
stantial only by comparison to the supreme Lord who is 
the source of its existence. Perception of the world is not 
the result of avidya; it is rather its cause, since the pheno- 
menal world obscures true knowledge of the Lord. 67 

Non-dualism and Pluralism 

The non-duality of the Bhagavan with the universe and the 
individual self is not the non-dualism without qualities (nirvi- 
sefddvaita or abhedavada) of Sarpkara. The Bhagavata.' s teaching 
is a non-dualism compatible with a plurality of beings and 

65. Cf. 1.15.30-31. 

66. VI.4.28a : sa vai maniasesavisesamayanisedhanirvanasukhanu- 

67. Hopkins, “The Vaishnava Bhakti Movement in the Bhagavata 
Parana," p. 84-85. 


40 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Pur ana 

individual selves. At the end of canto ten there is a chapter 
which deals directly with this relationship. Pariksit wonders how 
the Scripture immersed in and dealing with the qualities ( guna ) 
can then know about a God who is indefinable, without qualities, 
and beyond cause and effect. 68 Suta in reply asserts that the 
creation is indeed from Bhagavan, however transcendent he may 
be. He created so that the individuals so evolved might de- 
light in his creation and at the same time return to him in 
liberation. 69 Ignorance, paradoxically, is beginningless and has 
assumed the qualities for an evil purpose. But Bhagavan, 
though transcendent, has many divine attributes. There is 
delusion, no doubt ultimately derived from Bhagavan himself, 
which regards the qualities as not derived from Bhagavan. But 
the qualities of the universe, which are described in the Scriptures, 
can only point to Bhagavan, whether in an exterior manifested 
state or in an interior unmanifest state: “The wise recognize 

that the universe that is perceived is you, because you always 
persist and because it is just as the clay remains constant 
though its modifications are made and unmade.” 70 Therefore 
words can describe and the mind can know the transcendent 
Bhagavan since everything is Brahman and anything that 
can exist even for a time is part of him, whatever can be 
thought or spoken refers to him. 

Although he is the ultimate reality, who is without difference 
(abheda), the Brahman evolves from himself and enters into the 
categories of creation and becomes differentiated. 71 What is 
more, Brahman has become personal within the created uni- 
verse in order to show mortals the truth of that creation. The 
microcosm is like the macrocosm, one, undivided, and 
personal: “...your manifestations have revealed the true nature of 
your Self, which is difficult to realize.” 72 The reality of the 
universe is relative to the reality of the Self: “All the universe, 
a threefold product of the cosmic mind, appears as real due to 

68. Cf. X.87.1 

69. Cf. X.87.2-3. 

70. X.87.15a : brhadupalabdhametadavayantyavasesataya yata udayas- 
tamayau vikrtermrdiva’vikrtat// 

71. Cf. X.87.17. 

72. X.87.21a : duravagamatmatattvanigamaya tavattatanoscaritamaha- 

The Non-Dualism of the Bhagavata 41 

the superimposition of the unreal on you. Those who know the 
Self regard this universe as real because it is their Self. Just as 
persons seeking gold do not discard its modifications as they 
are essentially gold, the knowers of the Self conclude that the 
universe is their very Self as he made it and entered into it.” 73 
Both the individual self and the universe are identical because 
both have their source in the Highest Self. The mind can indeed 
‘penetrate to Brahman, even though he is without qualities and 
indefinable.” 74 Non-duality is the import of the Bhagavata, yet 
the universe is not thereby unreal. Both the universe and the 
individual self have a degree of reality derived from Brahman 
with whom they are not different. It may be that the redactor of 
the Bhagavata was unable to present a clear scholastic under- 
standing of this paradox, as the later Vaisnava acaryas were to 
attempt. Nonetheless, he knew what his faith was and held 
firmly to its paradoxes. 

73. X.87.26 : sadiva manastrivrttvayi vibhatyasadamanujatsadabhimrs- 
antyasesamidamatmatayatmavidah/ na hi vikrtim tyajanti kanakasya tadat- 
mataya svaki tamanupravistamidainatmataya vasitam // 

74. X. 87.49b : yatha brahmanyanirdesye nirgune’pi manascaret// 

The Satyikhya of the Bhagavata 


Chapter III 


We have stated in Chapter II that the Bhagavata, in addition 
to its basic use of Upanisadic language, also employs the termi- 
nology of Samkhya. Both Samkhya and Vedanta have their 
roots in the Upanisads. The main thrust of both was the insight 
of non-dualism. With the passage of time the tradition of 
Samkhya took a dualistic and non-theistic, if not atheistic, 
turn, in the Sarpkhya Karikas of Tsvarakrsna. The Vaisnava 
Purdnas have preserved a primitive Samkhya which is 
theistic and compatible with the Vedantic non-dualism of 
Brahman and the world, and of the Highest Self and 
the individual self. In the Bhagavata Purana the Puranic 
Samkhya is correlative to and corroborative of non-dualism. 
An investigation of its Samkhya passages reenforces the 
conclusion that the non-dualism of the Bhagavata is able to 
accommodate the pluralism of the world and of the individual 

Kapila, the legendary founder of the Samkhya school, is in 
the Bhagavata an avatara of Bhagavan, who was born 
into the house of Kardama in order to found the Samkhya 
system: “In this world, this birth of mine is for the exposition of 
the true knowledge of the categories leading to self-realization 
for those who seek liberation from the subtle body .” 1 The intent 
of the redactor of the Bhagavata is obviously to reenforce his 
teaching by appeal to the traditional authority of the Samkhya 
of Kapila. Even though Samkhya terminology is found through- 
out the Bhagavata, Samkhya itself is presented as a special 

1. III. 24.36: etanme janma loke’sminmumuksunam durasayat / prasam 
khyanaya tattvanam sarnmatayatmadarsane// 

revelation by Kapila to his mother Devahuti in canto three and 
by Krsna toUddhava in canto eleven. This chapter will focus on 
those passages. 

Samkhya is both a cosmology and a psychology. It traces 
from a single principle the evolution of the entire universe and 
of the consciousness of the Individual person. In the Bhagavata 
that single principle is Brahman: “Primal nature ( prakrti ) is the 
material cause of what is real. The Highest Person is its 
support. Time is its revealer. I, Brahman, constitute these 
three .” 2 

Brahman or Bhagavan by his own power creates all beings 
within his Self, without being changed in any way, just as a 
spider spins a web out of its own substance and then plays 
in it . 3 In the beginning he was all alone beyond the 
constituent qualities. All potentiality was submerged within 
him in a latent equilibrium. Intent on becoming many, Bhagavan 
by means of his creative energy brought forth from his own 
being time, the inherited destiny of creatures (karma), and their 
innate essence ( svabhava ). 4 These had formerly been manifest but 
had become latent and now were again approaching manifest- 
ation. These innate principles enable Bhagavan to reflect his 
unity in the plurality of other beings. “The peculiarity of the 
Bhagavata ,” according to A. Sen Gupta, “lies in the fact that 
here the supreme self, on its own initiative, has reflected itself 
in Maya and thus fallen under the influence of its own power .” 5 
This is not the case in the classical Samkhya where the motive 
for creation is inherent in primal nature (prakrti) and not in a 
transcendent reality. 

The two versions of Samkhya have much in common, yet 
also have significant differences . 6 According to the Bhagavata, 
the first emergent category is the primal nature (prakrti) from 
which evolves the great principle (mahat) which contains within 

2. XI.24.19 : prakrtirhyasyopadanamadharah purusah parah/ sato’ 
bhivyafijakah kalo brahma tattritayarp tvaham // 

3. Cf. II. 5.5 

4. Cf. II.5.21. 

5. Anima Sen Gupta, The Evolution of the Samkhya School of Thought 
(Patna : Pioneer Press, 1959), p. 98. 

6. Cf. chart in Appendix I, pp. 149-50. 


The Sdmkhya of the Bhagavata 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

itself the germ of the entire universe. The great principle has a 
nature of pure being and intelligence adequate for the entire 
cosmos. The great principle of the Bhagavata is not the intellect 
( buddhi ) oi Isvarakrsna’s classical Samkhya where it is the 
source lor the bondage of the individual spirit ( puruya ) nor 
does the evolution of the great principle occur because of 
the presence of unbound individual spirits as in Isvarakrsna . 7 
Rather the great principle of the Bhagavata is the cosmic 
intelligence (citta) of the cosmic Person (purusa) : “Then, under 
tne impelling force of time, the great principle ( mahat ) was 
generated from the unmanifest ( = mdya ). It is of the nature of 
intelligence ( vijndna ) which dispels inertia (tamas) and manifests 
the universe lying within the body oftheself .” 8 In the Bhagavata, 
in contrast to I^varalcrsna, the phenomenal intellect or mind 
( buddhi ) is a function of the individual self and is an evolute of 
the ‘active’ ego ( rasjasa ahamkdra). 

From the great principle the three-fold ego ( ahamkdra ) 
evolves, the source of T and ‘mine.’ The three forms of the ego 
are the ‘knowing’ ego ( sdttvika ), the ‘active’ ego (rdjasa), and 
the ‘inertial’ ego (tamasa). From the ‘knowing’ ego arises 
the mind (memos'), “characterized by thinking and special 
meditation and is the source of desire .” 9 The mind is 
directive, supervising and motivating the senses. From the 
‘active’ ego the phenomenal mind (buddhi) arises, which is a 
collective term for the functioning of the cognitive (jhana) and 

7. Cf. the Samkhya Karikas of Isvarakrsna XXIII and XXXV: adhya- 
vasayo buddhirdharmo jnanam viraga aisvaryam / sattivkametadrupam 
tamasamasmadviparyastam// “Intellect is determinative. Virtue, wisdom, 
non-attachment, and the possession of lordly powers constitute its pure being 
form; the reverse of these are of its inertial form.” santah karana buddhih 
sarvapi visayamavagahate yasmat/ tasmattrividham karanani dvari dvarani 
sesani // For the reason that the intellect with the other internal organs 
ascertains the nature of objects of sense, the internal organs are the princi- 
pal ones, while the rest are the entrances thereto.” The translations are by 
S. S. Suryanarayana Sastri in A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, edited by 
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore (Princeton : Princeton 
University Press, 1957), pp. 434 and 437. 

8. III.5.27 : tato’bhavanmahattattvamavyaktatkalacoditat/ vijnanatma- 
tmadehastharp visvaqi vyanjamstamonudah// 

9. HI.26.27b : yatsarnkalpavikalpabhyarn vartate kamasambhavah// 

the conative (karma) senses (indriya). The phenomenal mind is 
characterized by doubt, misapprehension, correct apprehension, 
memory and sleep . 10 From the ‘inertial’ ego the subtle elements 
(tanmatra) and the gross elements (bhuta) arise. In classical 
Samkhya the ‘active’ ego activates and coordinates the other 
two phases of the ego. It has no evolutes of its own . 11 in the 
Bhagavata' s scheme of evolution, each phase of the ego has its 
own particular evolutes. Thus the evolution of the categories 
from the great principle down to the gross elements encompasses 
all of manifest reality, both material and psychic. 

In canto eleven the Bhagavata acknowledges the existence of 
several schools of Samkhya which enumerate the categories 
differently . 12 Irenically the Bhagavata accepts each of these 
schools by declaring that there was no real difference among 
the several accounts. Since cause and effect are substantially 
identical in a Samkhya system different ways of enumerating the 
categories are possible. If one considers that spirit ( purusa ) 
under the influence of ignorance, cannot attain liberation by its 
own efforts, he may then affirm the need for a Supreme Person, 
a higher spiritual principle, and will number twenty-six categories 
instead of twenty-five. Therefore the Bhagavata accepts both: 
“As there is the possibility of offering a reason for the causal 
relations of these categories as well as their enumeration as 
advanced by the disputants, according to their capacity of 
argumentation, we accept the position presented by them .” 13 

It is important to remember that the evolution of the categories 
(tattva), according to the Bhagavata, takes place at the start 
of a cosmic cycle which proceeds to dissolution. This 
dissolution, or devolution, is also described in terms of the 

10. Cf. III.26.29b-30. 

11. Cf. the Sdmkhya Karikas XXV: sattvika ekadasakah pravartate 
vaikrtadahankarat/ bhutadestanmatrah sa tamasastaijasadubhayam// “The 
‘set of eleven’ abounding in the sattva attribute evolves out of the vaikrta 
form of the ‘I-principle’; the set of rudimentary substances from the bhutddi 
form of the ‘I-principle’; and both of them from the taijasa form of the 
‘I-principle.” pp. 434-35. 

12. Cf. XI.22.2-3a. 

13. XI. 22. 9 : paurvaparyamato’misam prasamkhyanamabhlpsatam/ 
yatha viviktam yadvaktram grhnimo yuktisambhavat // 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

categories. The gross elements revert to the subtle elements, which 
in turn revert to the ‘inertial’ ego. Similarly the cognitive and 
conative senses revert to the ‘active’ ego, and the mind reverts to 
the ‘knowing’ ego. Both the material and the psychic realms, 
which are functions of each other, devolve to a state of latency in 
the great principle at the same time. “The great principle, endow- 
ed with qualities, is withdrawn into the qualities which in turn 
are dissolved into the unmanifest ( prakrti ). That unmanifest is 
withdrawn into time which has ceased to function.” 14 Time 
reverts to the cosmic Person, who rules by means of his creative 
energy. Finally everything is merged into the Self, who stands 

Contrary to Isvarakrsna’s Samkhya where there are many spirits 
( purusa), 15 in the Bhagavata there is only one Person ( purusa ), 
who is Supreme, “the Self, who is beginningless, without quali- 
ties, and beyond primal nature.” 16 In this Samkhya scheme of 
non-dualism, the purusa is that aspect of Bhagavan which tran- 
scends primal nature and is without its qualities, yet ensouls 
primal nature and all its evolutes. He does this of his own free 
will in a sportful manner. In one sense the Person is ensnared 
by the possibilities of primal nature, whose charms obscure his 
consciousness so that he becomes many individual spirits. 17 God, 
as it were, while remaining beyond his creation, chooses to be 
evolved into it, and to have his single essence obscured by 
multiplicity. The Person is therefore not on an equal level 
with primal nature, divided by a dualist abyss, as in classical 
Saipkhya, but as a higher form of Bhagavan possesses primal 

14. XI.24.26 : sa llvate mahansvesu gunesu gunavattamah/te’vyakte 
sampraliyante tatkale llyate’vyaye// 

15. Cf. the Samkhya Karikas XVIII : janana maranakarananam prati- 
niyamadayugapatpravrttesca/ purusabahutvam siddham traigunyaviparya- 
yaccaiva // “The plurality of spirits certainly follows from the distributive 
nature of the incidence of birth and death and of the endowment of the 
instruments of cognition and action, from bodies engaging in action, not 
all at the same time, and also from differences in the proportion of 
the three qualities.” p. 432. 

16. III.26.3a : anadiratma puruso nirgunah prakrteh parah / 

17. Cf. III.26.4-5. 

The Saipkhya of the Bhagavata 47 

nature, which is thus not an independent principle. Primal 
nature from which all else is derived is itself derived. 18 

The Samkhya scheme of evolution is built on the principle of 
satkarya, according to which “the real entity at the basis of the 
product is that which the earlier existence adopts as the material 
to evolve the later existence, or that which is, in a given case, 
considered to be the beginning and the end of a certain 
effect.” 19 There is no ultimate distinction between cause and 
effect, or between power and the possessor of the power. Each 
category, except for the gross elements, which are the final evo- 
lutes, is both a substance and a power, an evolute and an evolver. 
Each category has no quality not already present in the category 
it evolved from. That which is gross has a subtle form within 
that which produced it. This principle applies for the primal 
nature in relation to the Person as well as for the gross 
elements in relation to the subtle elements. According to 
the principle of satkarya, in the words of Sen Gupta, “what- 
ever is non-existent cannot be brought into existence and 
...whatever is existent cannot be made totally non-existent 
...The effect that is produced from the cause is not totally dis- 
similar to it, as no intercourse is possible between two absolutely 
distinct entities.” 20 Thus the effect is always subtly present in the 
cause. Since there is ultimately one cause, all that is, is present 
in that one cause. 

Having so firmly grounded multiplicity in unity by the doc- 
trine of satkarya, how does the Bhagavata explain the transfor- 
mation (parindma) of unity into multiplicity? How is that 
equilibrium of the qualities within the unmanifest ( prakrti ) dis- 
turbed ? In the second canto Brahma asserts that “it is due to 
the presence or direction of the Person that time became the 
cause of the imbalance in the three qualities, that the innate es- 

18. Cf. the Samkhya Karikas LXIII : rupaih saptabhirevam badhnatya- 
tmanamatmana prakrtih/ saiva ca purusasyartham prati vimocayatyekaru- 
pena// “Primal nature by herself binds herself by means of seven forms; 
and by means of one form she causes deliverance for the benefit of the 
spirit.” p. 444. 

19. XI.24.18 : yadupadaya purvastu bhavo vikurute param/ adiranto 
yada yasya tatsatyamabhidhiyate// 

20. Sen Gupta, The Evolution of the Samkya School of Thought, p. 41. 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhdgavata Parana 

The Sarfikhya of the Bhagavata 


sence is the cause of their modifications, and that inherited destiny 
{karma) is the cause of the birth of the great principle.” 21 
These three, time, the innate essence of creature, and their in- 
herited destiny, are not categories ( tattva ) in the usual sense, 
dependent upon theprimal nature, but powers (sakti)of Bhagavan. 
Nor are they products of the evolutionary process, which pre- 
suppose these supraphenomenal powers. In fact the powers are 
identified with Bhagavan. 

Time, which is sometimes designated as the twenty-fifth cate- 
gory, is identified with Bhagavan : “that is designated time which 
sets in motion the undifferentiated qualities of primal nature 
which were in a state of equilibrium.” 22 Bhagavan, who is un- 
affected by change, by means of his creative energy dwells within 
all his creatures in the form of the Person and outside them in 
the form of time. The Bhdgavata sees time in three ways : (1) as 
God, (2) as his power, and (3) as temporal sequence. 23 Time as 
God and as his power presides not only over the disturbance of 
the equilibrium of the qualities, but also over the maintenance 
and dissolution of the universe. Creation has a beginning and an 
end, but time has neither beginning nor end, nor does it change, 
since it is an integral part of the nature of the Supreme Deity. 24 
“One might say,” with Bhattacarya, “somewhat paradoxically 
that Time is free from the limitations of time.” 25 

Time, the innate essence of creature, and their inherited destiny 
are eternal functions of the Deity. In the Bhdgavata there is no 
creation from nothing nor does time begin. Thus the creature, 
whether latent or manifest, always has an innate essence by 
which he may become manifest and always has an inherited 
destiny which will determine the precise details of that manifes- 
tation. The innate essence is Bhagavan’s purpose and determina- 
tion for each existent, modified only by the inherited destiny of 
the individual self, both of which are present to Bhagavan before 

21. II.5.22 : kaladgunavyatikarah parinamah svabhavatah/ karmano 
janma mahatah purusadhisthitadabhut// 

22. III. 26.17 : parkrtergunasamyasya nirvisesasya manavi / cestha yatah 
sa bhagavankala ityupalaksitah/ 

23. Cf. X.16.41. 

24. Cf. IV. 11.19. 

25. Bhattacarya, The Philosophy of the Srimad-Bhagavata, 1,259. 

any particular creation, since the cycle of death and rebirth 
{samsdra) is eternal. Bhagavan sports for the purpose of giving 
the individual self existence and that sport, by his will, is subject 
to the innate essence of the individual self. It is also subject to 
the free actions of the individual self {karma). These two, the 
innate essence and the inherited destiny of the individual self, 
are identified with Bhagavan himself in accordance with the non- 
dualism of the Bhdgavata , 28 

The individual self {jiva) for whom creation occurs is a shadow 
of the Supreme Person. As a function of the Person the indivi- 
dual self is not essentially tied down to the phenomenal products 
of the evolution from primal nature. The senses, the objects of the 
senses, and the mind constitute the body of the individual self 
which must give them up. 27 The individual self is eternal, immut- 
able, pure, one, a witness, the refuge, unchanging, self-luminous, 
a cause, all-pervasive, unattached and perfect, 28 qualities which 
it shares with the Supreme Self, because it is identical with that 
Self. The individual self achieves phenomenal existence when 
the Person ( purusa ) and the primal nature {pralerti) meet. 
The result of their meeting is the limitation of the Self 
in a body, that is, the individual self. Thus the individual 
self cannot really die for “...the Self is unborn and does 
not die.” 29 When the body dies the individual self is reunited 
with Brahman. This is one of the more extreme identity 
texts of the Bhdgavata where the empirical and phenomenal self 
only appears to differ from Brahman. 

S. Dasgupta discerns a difference in emphasis between the 
Samkhya texts in cantos two and three and those in canto eleven. 
The latter tend to an unqualified monism rather than a qualified 
non-dualism. Thus Dasgupta says that 

...though the two treatments may not be interpreted as 

radically different, yet the monistic tendency which regards 

all worldly experiences as illusory is so remarkably 

26. Cf. III. 29. 36. 

27. Cf. XI. 13.25-26. 

28. Cf. VII. 7. 19. 

29. XII.5.4...tata atma hyajo’marab// 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

The Samkhya of the Bhagavata 


stressed that it very nearly destroys the realistic note which 
is a special feature of the Samkhya schools of thought . 30 

In canto eleven, for example, Krsna tells Uddhava to “please 
understand that it is merely an illusion which shows difference 
which is reflected in the self due to ignorance about its true 
nature .” 31 The world is an illusion and the individual self in it is 
dreaming even in his waking state. The only solution is to resort 
to Samkhya and Yoga, because “a person who has mastered 
Yoga’s samadhi and has realized reality does not resort to the 
dream-like unreal world any more than an awakened person to 
the objects in a dream .” 32 The goal of Samkhya is Bhagavan 
himself. It is almost as if the body had a greater reality than its 
possessor, the ixrdividual self, which is really the Self deluded by 
the products of the creative energy and limited by the body. 

For the Bhagavata the question of bondage is not minimized 
and release from it is a pressing concern, in spite of those pas- 
sages which seem to describe the world and the individual self as 
illusory . 33 As Sanatkumara says in canto four: “In this world, 
there is no worse loss of his self-interest for a person than the 
loss of his own Self for whose sake every other thing in the 
world becomes dear .” 34 Liberation alone is a worthy end of life 
since any other purpose is subject to the dread of death and 
rebirth. Liberation is one of the distinguishing characteristics of 
a Puraria 35 and is the goal of the process of Samkhya and Yoga. 
But just as in the lists of the characteristics of a Purana libera- 
tion is subordinated to ‘support’ ( dsraya ), so the process which 
leads to liberation is subordinated to the process which leads to 
‘support’, that is, devotion. Liberation is proper to an imper- 
sonal non-dualism, while devotion characterizes a personal non- 
dualism. Thus in canto eleven Bhagavan says that “Neither 

30. Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, IV, 32. 

31. XI.22.56b : atmagrahananirbhatanr pasya vaikalpikam bhramam// 

32. XI.13.37b : tarn saprapancamadhirudhasamadhiyogah svapnarp 
punarna bhajate pratibuddhavastuh// 

33. Cf. Sen Gupta, The Evolution of the Samkhya School of Thought, 
p. 41. 

34. IV.22.32 : natah parataro loke pumsah svarthavyatikramah/ yada- 
dhyanyasya preyastvamatmanah svavyatikramat// 

35. Cf. II.10.1. 

Samkhya nor Yoga nor Dharma nor the study of the Veda, 
nor austerities nor renunciation leads a person to me as 
does intensive devotion .” 36 

Devotion profoundly alters the context of the Bhagavata ’s 
treatment of Samkhya. That Samkhya indeed corroborates the 
non-dualism derived from Vedantic sources. It even takes an 
extreme monistic form in some passages. Yet the highest wisdom 
of the Bhagavata, its clearest vision, lies in its teaching of devo- 
tion to Bhagavan Krsna, a teaching which qualifies its non- 
dualism. Thus its Samkhya is compatible for the most part with 
both the Bhagavata' s non-dualism and its theism. It provides a 
theoretic framework for binding the two together in a clear 
vision. The next chapter will show that the identification 
of Krsna as Bhagavan is a key element influencing that vision. 

36. XI.14.20 : na sadhayati mam yogo na samkhyam dharma uddhava/ 
na svadhyayastapastyago yatha bhaktirmamorjita// 

The Identity of Bhagavan 


Chapter IV 


Krfria Over Visnu 

By means of its non-dualism the Bhagavata sought to provide 
a firm basis for a religious devotion to the Supreme Deity. In 
the history ofBhagavatism and Vaisnavism the Bhagavata Parana, 
although a late piece of literature, gives a conclusive resolution 
to the problem of the personality of the Supreme Deity for all 
those schools of Vaisnavism which regard it as authoritative. 
The Deity of later Bhagavatism had an inclusive quality which 
enabled him to absorb many local deities and cults. It did this 
through the doctrine of the divine manifestations ( avatara ) to 
which is to be attributed much of Bhagavatism’s popularity. 
“The syncretism effected through this doctrine,” in the words of 
S. Jaiswal, “was sometimes brahmanical and sometimes popular 
in character, but to a great extent it was the reconciliatory atti- 
tude of Vaisnavism which gave the country a kind of cultural 
unity and succeeded in establishing the same kind of social struc- 
ture all over India .” 1 The Bhagavata Purana played an important 
role in this process. 

For the Bhagavata, which is inclusive of popular deities, who 
the Supreme Deity is and what his name signifies is of decisive 
importance. Undoubtedly L. Shinn is correct when he says that 
as “one reads the Bhagavata he may be confused about the divi- 
nity which lies somewhere behind all the names given to him .” 2 

1. Suvira Jaiswal, The Origin and Development of Vaisnavism (Delhi: 
Munshiram Manoharlal, 1967), p. 132. 

2. Shinn, “Krsna’s LUci : An Analysis of the Relationship of the Notion 

of Deity and the Concept of Sarpsara in the Bhagavata Parana ,” p. 94. 

But as one reads further in the Bhagavata, especially in its cli- 
mactic tenth canto, there is little doubt who Bhagavan is, namely 
Krsna, although the relationship between all the manifestations, 
deities, and Bhagavan’s many epithets is far from clear, as would 
be expected in the Puranic genre. It becomes clear that the per- 
sonality of Bhagavan Krsna subordinates to itself the titles and 
identities of Visnu, Narayana, Purusa, Isvara, Hari, Vasudeva, 
Janardana, etc. The pervasive theme, then, of the Bhagavata 
Purana is the identification of Bhagavan with Krsna. 

The history of the gradual assimilation by Visnu of the charac- 
ters of Narayapa and Vasudeva-Krsna is obscure and much dis- 
puted by scholars. The title ‘Bhagavan’ originally was associated 
with Narayana and through him became connected with Visnu . 3 
The meeting of Bhagavan Visnu-Narayana with the personality 
of Vasudeva-Krsna resulted in the doctrine of the divine mani- 
festations, avataras and vyuhas, which centered on the manifes- 
tation of Krsna. At least one redactor of the Mahabharata 
brought to the fore the Krsna manifestation of Visnu. With the 
Harivaryisa and the Visnu Purana the stories of the child and 
cowherder Krsna are introduced into the literary tradition, 
enhancing his personality, but there is still no doubt in these 
books that the manifestation of Krsna is a descent ( avatara ) of 
the Supreme Deity Visnu. By the time of the writing of the 
Bhagavata in the ninth century, their roles have been reversed 
and Bhagavan no longer refers primarily to Visnu but to Krsna. 
An examination of the text of the Bhagavata will illustrate this 
transformation, which laid the foundation for the rise of emo- 
tional devotion in later Hinduism. 

The Four Ages 

In the eleventh canto there is a description of the roles of the 
Deity in the four ages: “Kesava in the ages of Krta, Treta, 

3. Jaiswal, The Origin and Development of Vaisnavism, p. 38. This is 
contrary to the common assertion that the title ‘Bhagavan’ associated with 
the Vaisnava deities was originally a title of Krsna Vasudeva. SeeH.C. 
Raychaudhury, Materials for the Study of the Early History of the Vaishnava 
Sect (New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation, 1975/1920), p. 60ff. 
and Jitendranath Banerjea, Paurariic and Tantric Religion ( Early Phase) 
Calcutta : University Press, 1966), p. 21. 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

The Identity of Bhagavan 


Dvapara, and Kali assumes complexions, names, and forms, and 
is worshipped in different ways .” 4 The Deity is known as 
Hamsa, Suparna, Vaikuntha, Dharma, Yogesvara, Amala, 
Isvara, Purusa, Avyakta, and Paramatma. These are the titles 
of Visnu, although they could be applied to any deity. In the 
Krta age the Deity has a white complexion and four arms. In 
the Treta age he has a crimson hue and appears in the form of 
sacrifices. Pious men worship with the Vedic forms and Hari is 
the embodiment of the gods. In the Dvapara age the Lord has a 
dark complexion, wears the Kaustubha gem and the Srlvatsa 
curl. Men worship by means of both Vedic and Tantric rituals 
and seek the Supreme Reality in a human form with the marks 
of a king. In the Kali age the Vedas are neglected and Bhagavan 
is worshipped by the Tantric practices of chanting and singing 
his name . 5 Even though Krsna lived in the Dvapara age, there 
is a special blessing for those born in the Kali age, which begins 
at Krsna’s death. A the world runs down in the various ages, 
each succeeding age is in greater need of the Supreme Deity’s 
presence. While these ages are a traditional device to show that 
the universe is running down, the Bhagavata uses them to show 
the value and importance of the Supreme Deity in his Krsna 
aspect, who is more and more present as the universe degenerates. 

In the Kali age, which begins with Krsna’s death, people 
delight in sin. Sin could not enter the world until Krsna had left 
it; the two are incompatible. But as Krsna’s physical presence 
departs his memory takes on a new importance : “O King, in- 
deed there is one great quality in the Kali age, which is a store- 
house of faults, since by chanting about Krsna attachment is 
loosened and a person reaches the Highest .” 6 What was attained 
in the other ages by meditating on Visnu, by sacrifices, or by 
worship, in the Kali age is attained through chanting and sing- 
ing. Thus the remembrance and celebration of Bhagavan Krsna 
is as important for liberation and final beatitude as his physical 
presence as an avatara, perhaps, as we shall see later, more so. 

4. XI.5.20 : krtam treta dvaparam ca kalirityesu kesavah / nanavarna- 
bhidhakaro nanaiva vidhinejyate // 

5. Cf. XI.5.24-26. 

6. XII. 3. 51 : kalerdosanidherajannasti hyeko mahangunah/ kirtanadeva 

krsnasya muktasangah param vrajet // 

Krsna’s death and departure is the blessed occasion for the 
appearance of the Bhagavata, which “benefits those who have 
been blinded in the Kali age .” 7 

The special revelation of Bhagavan’s glories and activities 
among men in the different ages made to the sages by the 
Bhagavata enables them to love and devote themselves to 
Bhagavan in a way more intense than was ever before possible. 
The Purana of the devotees of Bhagavan, the Bhagavata, extends 
his presence in the Kali age and functions as an avatara on the 
behalf of men oppressed by the absence of Bhagavan. Indeed 
the Bhagavata Mahatmya from the Padma Purana identifies 
Bhagavan and the Bhagavata'. “The sages come to regard the 
holy book of the Bhagavata as a form of Bhagavan ( bhagavad - 
rupam ) in the Kali age and capable of conferring the reward of 
speedy access to Vaikuntha by being read or heard .” 8 Later on 
the Mahatmya describes the Bhagavata as consisting of Brahman 
(brahmatmaka). 9 If the singing and hearing of the stories of 
Bhagavan in all his manifestations is conducive to liberation, it 
must be necessary that the primary subject of those stories be 
the Supreme Being. There is little doubt that this is the intent of 
the redactor of the Bhagavata when he narrates the stories of 
Krsna or the stories of Visnu’s descents which are related to 
Krsna. In effect he so identifies Krsna with Visnu as to replace 
Visnu with Krsna as the primary personality of the Supreme 
Deity. This conversion of Visnu into Krspa by the Bhagavata 
has had great influence on the nature of the devotional life of 
the Vaisnavas ever since. 

The Questions of the Sages 

In the first canto the sages ask questions of Suta, the answers 
to which comprise the Bhagavata. Four of those questions, or 
requests, have a bearing on this problem of the relation between 
Visnu and Krsna. The first question the sages ask Suta is to 

7. 1. 3. 45b : kalau nastadrsamesa puranarko’dbunoditah// 

8. Bhagavata Mahatmya 1. 20 : menire bhagavaarupam sastram 
bhagavatam kalau/ pathanacchravanat sadyo vaikunthaphaladayakam // 

9. Cf. Bhagavata Mahatmya Ill.74a. 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

draw out the essence of the Scriptures from the confusion of 
differing assertions which perplex the sages. They seek their true 
import. The second question seeks to know why “Bhagavan, the 
Lord of the Satvatas, was born of Devaki, Vasudeva’s wife .” 10 
The son of Devaki was Krsna, thus identifying Krsna with 
Bhagavan. The third question seeks to know the story of “the 
noble actions, which have been told by the great seers, of him 
who for sport assumes forms ( Jcala ).” u The third question refers 
to the various appearances of Bhagavan, traditionally thought 
of as the manifestations of Visnu. The fourth question centers 
again on Krsna : “O wise one, therefore describe the auspicious 
narratives of Hari’s manifestations ( avatara ), who performed 
sports of his own will by means of his creative energy .” 12 The 
sages are never sated with hearing stories of Krsna and his 
brother Balarama. Thus all the questions and requests are 
related to Krsna, who is the source of thevarious manifestations 
of the Supreme Deity. Further by asking a separate question 
about the biography of Krsna, the sages indicate that 
there is a distinction between the descent of Krsna and the 
other descents. The distinction, as we see in Suta’s reply, 
is that Krsna is the perfect manifestation and revelation of 
Bhagavan, the Supreme Deity : 13 “This inquiry refers to Krsna 
by whom the self is purified. That certainly is the highest religi- 
ous duty of men from which follows devotion to Adhoksaja .” 14 

A little later Suta uses the Hindu concept of the three forms 
of the Deity ( trimurti ) to subordinate the god Hari-Visnu to 
Krsna Vasudeva : “The one Supreme Person is joined to the 

10. 1.1.12 : suta janasi bhadram te bhagavansatvatampatih/devakyam 
vasudevasya jato yasya ciklrsaya// 

11. 1.1.17 : tasya karmanyudarani parigitani stiribhih/ bruhi nah srad- 
dadhananarp lilaya dadhatah kalah/ 

12. 1.1.18 : athakhyahi harerdhlmannavatarakathah subhah / Hla 
vidadhatah svairamisvarasyatmamayaya/ / 

13. This is not clear to some scholars, cf. David R. Kinsley, The Sword 
and the Flute : Kali and Krsria , Dark Visions of the Terrible and the Sublime 
in Hindu Mythology (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1975), p. 67, 
n. 19. 

14. 1.2.5b-6a : yatkrtah krsnasamprasno yenatma suprasldati// sa vai 
pumsam paro dharmo yato bhaktiradhoksaje/ 

The Identity of Bhagavan 


qualities of primal nature, being, action, and inertia. He accepts 
for the maintenance, creation, and destruction of the universe 
the forms ofHari (= Visnu), Virinci ( = Brahma), and Hara 
( = Siva). The supreme good for men is derived from the body 
of being (sattva = Visnu ).” 15 In spite of Visnu’s former preemi- 
nence, he is here treated as a manifestation of Bhagavan, whom 
Suta has shown to be Krsna. Suta says that the Vedas ultimately 
imply Vasudeva. The sacrifices aim at him. The disciplines of 
Yoga lead to him. The rituals culminate in him. All wisdom is 
summed up in him. All penance is done for him. All virtue is 
for the purpose of realizing him and all destinies converge on 
Vasudeva 16 Visnu is identified merely with the quality of being 
( sattva ), but Krsna- Vasudeva is Bhagavan himself beyond the 
qualities. Finally all the other manifestations are his subordi- 
nates: ‘‘These are parts and portions of the Person but Krsna 
is indeed Bhagavan himself .” 1 ' 7 

Bhagavan Kr$na 

We have thus seen that one of the chief themes of the 
Bhagavata is that Krsna is the primary bearer of the title 
‘Bhagavan’, that he is the Supreme Being. This identification 
can be seen in the many passages where the Bhagavata identifies 
Krsna with Visnu-Narayana. Its approach is to show that 
Krsna is Visnu’s equal or his superior, thereby replacing him as 
the Highest identity of God. In canto ten Arjuna and Krsria 
Journey to the highest heaven of Visnu, searching for the lost 
sons of a Brahman. There they behold the Supreme Person, 
who pervades everything with his infinite powers, resting on the 
serpent Sesa. Krsna ‘‘bowed to infinite Acyuta, who was him- 
self.” Arjuna was awestruck at the sight and bowed also. The 
Highest Person, Visnu, addresses the two of them : “You are 
the sages Nara and Narayana .” 18 Here Kr?na bows to himself in 

15. 1.2.23 : sattvam rajastamaiti pralqtergunastairyuktah parah purusa 
eka ihasya dhatte/ sthityadaye harivirincihareti samjnah sreyamsi tatra 
khalu sattvatanornrnarn syuh// 

16. Cf. 1.2.28-29. 

17. 1. 3. 28a : ete camsakalah purnsah krsnastu bhagavansvayam/ 

18. X.89.5a, 60a :. . . vavanda atmanamanantamacyuto. . . purnakama- 
vapi yuvam naranarayanavrsi/ 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

The Identity of Bhagavan 



the form of Visnu, the former preeminent Deity, and is called 
Narayana by that form. Also it is indicated that Arjuna too is 
a manifestation of Krsna. The two set an example to the whole 
world. Arjuna, “seeing the realm of Visnu was much astonished. 
He realized that what is human in men is due to the grace of 
Krsna .” 19 He now understands that the two, Visnu and Krsna, 
are identical and that Visnu has adored his companion, giving 
him preeminence. The two are one, Visnu displaying his glory in 
heaven and Krspa sporting on earth for the sake of virtue. 

In canto twelve there is a Tantric meditation, presumably 
derived from a Pancaratra source. Saunaka asks Suta how those 
who follow the Tantras meditate on Visnu. In reply Suta des- 
cribes Bhagavan Visjriu as the sun-god who manifests himself in 
the forms ( vyuha ) of Vasudeva, Samkarsana, Pradyumna, and 
Aniruddha. In conclusion, Suta addresses Visnu in terms appro- 
priate for Krsna, identifying the two. He calls Visnu the ‘jewel 
of the Vrsnis,’ “Govinda, whose prowess is celebrated in song 
by the cowherd girls of Vraja .” 20 Thus Visnu is praised in terms 
of his divine splendor and then identi fied with Kt sna, who fights 
alongside of Arjuna and who is the beloved of the cowherd girls. 
The Bhagavata is describing Visnu in terms of Krsna rather 
than vice versa. 

Similarly in canto eleven Krsna recommends to Uddhava a 
yogic meditation in which he is to visualize within himself the 
beautiful form of Krsna, described in terms formerly used to 
describe Visnu. Krsna is to be conceived as having a symetrical 
form with a handsome face, four arms, a graceful neck and 
bright smiles. He is wearing the brilliant, alligator-shaped ear- 
rings of Visnu: the conch, discus, mace, lotus, and the Kaus- 
tubha gem. Krsna tells Uddhava to come to him through his 
Visnu-form and “thus with his mind established in me, he will 
see me in himself and himself merged in me, the Self of all, just 
as light merges with light .” 21 Thus the form of Visnu is no 

19. X.88.63£amya vaisnavam dhama parthah paramavismitah/ yat- 
kimcitpaurusam pumsam mene krsnanukampitam// 

20. XII. 11.25b: govinda gopavanitavrajabhrtyagita. ..// 

21. XI. 14.45: evarp samahitamatirmamevatmanamatmani/ vicaste mayi 
sarvatman jyotirjyotisi samyutam // 

longer that of the Supreme God but a means for Uddhava to 
realize his own non-dua lity with Krsna, the Supreme Deity. 
While there are other passages in the Bhagavata relating to 
Visnu, some of which do not explicitly subordinate him to 
Krsna, the general import of the work subordinates Visnu to 
Krsna. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the 
Bhdgavata’s treatment of the divine manifestations among men 
[avatar a). 

Manifestations of the Divine: The Avatara 

The theory of the divine manifestations ( avatara ) of Visnu 
among men has been traced to the amalgamation of the deities 
Vi?nu-Narayana with Vasudeva-Krsna, the latter being under- 
stood as an incarnation of the former . 22 When it refers to the 
divine manifestations, the Bhagavata several times alludes to 
this Rgveda passage : “Who can exhaust the powers of Visnu ? 
Not even one capable of counting the particles of dust on the 
earth can do it .” 23 Thus in canto eleven it says that “he who 
seeks to count the infinite qualities of the infinite has the mind 
of a child; it is easier to count the particles of dust on the earth 
in time but never the excellences of the Lord — the resort of all 
powers .” 24 Relying on his infinite powers, Bhagavan expands 
himself in ways quite beyond the capacity of men to under- 
stand. The importance of these manifestations ( avatara ) in 
Vaisnavism, and expecially in the Bhagavata, can hardly be 
stressed enough. The Purana, as we have seen, begins with the 
questions of the sages about Krsna’s manifestations and it also 
concludes on this note. Thus in canto twelve Suta tells the 
sages: “Thus I have answered, O best of the twice-born, what 
you asked about the sports, manifestations, and activities which 
have been related here in all their details .” 25 

22. Jaiswal, The Origin and Development of Vaisnavism, p. 118. 

13. RV Veda I.154.1a : visnor nu karp viryani pra vocam yah parthi- 
vanivimame rajarpsi/ Translation by Bhaqacarya, The Philosophy of the 
Srtmad-Bhagavata, I, 174. 

24. XI. 4.2 : yo va anantasya gunananantananukramisyansa tu bala- 
buddhih/ rajarpsi bhumerganayetkatharpcitkalena naivakhilasaktidhamnah// 

25. XII.12.45 : iti coktani dvijasrestha yatprsto’hamihasmi vah/ Iila- 
vatarakarmani klrtitaniha sarvasah// 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

The word avatdra is itself rather late in the history of Vaisnav- 
ism. It does not occur in the Bhagavad Gita nor in the Nardya- 
niya of the Mahabharata nor in the HarivatpSa, where such 
words as janman, sambhava, srjana, and pradurbhbva are em- 
ployed. 26 The early tendency seems to have been to subordinate 
different deities in different localities to Visnu by recognizing 
them as earthly manifestations of the Supreme Deity. The 
word avatdra introduces a note of systematization into the 
Pin-anas. It “implies the intrinsic superiority of the principle 
deity Narayana-Visnu who does an act of condescension by 
incarnating himself in a particular form...” 27 The original 
nucleus of divine manifestations was : the boar ( varaha ), the 
man-lion ( narasimha), the dwarf ( vamana ), and the Man who is 
Ki?na ( manufd ), to which were later added Rama Bhargava and 
Rama Dasaratha and then the goose ( hamsa ), Hayagriva, etc. 28 
The number of ten manifestations was fixed soon after the 
Mahabharata, but the names vary with the particular text, not 
achieving standardization before the eighth century a.d. 

The Bhagavata does not mention the conventional list of ten 
manifestations. However, lists of manifestations are mentioned 
in six places in the text: (1)1.3.28 where twenty-two manifesta- 
tions are listed; (2) II. 7.1 where twenty-four are listed; (3) 
VII.9.38 where seven are mentioned ; (4) X.2.4 where in a cele- 
bration of the conception of Krsna eight manifestations are 
mentioned ; (5) X. 40. 17-20 where fourteen manifestations, in- 
cluding the four presiding manifestations ( vyuha ) are listed; and 
(6) XI.4. 18-23 where twenty-one are listed. The Bhagavata, in 
accord with its teaching of non-dualism, usually associates the 
manifestations of the Deity among men with the creation of the 
universe. “The widest concept of Incarnation,” as S. Bhatta- 
carya comments, “envisaged by the Bhagavata here, apparently 
embraces all expressions of Bhagavan— immanent and transcen- 
dent, sentient and insentient— all integrated by the law of 
Divine Sport into the grand unity of Bhagavan.” 29 

26. Jaiswal, The Origin and Development of Vaisnavism, p. 120. 

27. Ibid. 

28. Cf. Mahabharata XII. 337.36. 

29. Bhattacarya, The Philosophy of the Srimad-Bhagavata I, 176. 

The Identity of Bhagavan 


The avatdra, however, is a particular immanent form of the 
Supreme Deity within his non-duality, the transcendent be- 
coming immanent within the phenomenal which is ultimately 
not other than the Deity. 

The descents of the Lord are infinite in number. As Suta says 
in canto one: “Just as thousands of streams flow from an inex- 
haustible lake, so from the storehouse of the pure being ( sattva ) 
flow innumerable manifestations ( avatdra ) of Hari.” 20 The sages, 
the Manus, the gods, those who are powerful are all rays ofHari. 
Again in canto ten Krsna says that his own “births, actions, and 
names number in the thousands, and cannot be counted by me 
because they are infinite.” 31 Recalling the R.g Veda, Krsna says 
that “someone in the past might have been able to count the 
particles of dust on the earth through many lives, but one could 
never count my qualities, actions, names, and births.” 32 The 
births ( janman ) and the manifestations {avatdra) of the Divine 
are infinite in number and manifest the infinite power of 
Bhagavan to express himself, yet they, in spite of their non- 
duality with him, are but partial expressions of his infinite 

The Bhagavata in different places in the text classifies the 
divine manifestations differently. Thus the first canto says that 
the manifestations are “parts {amsa) and portions (kala ) of the 
Person.” 33 In addition to the part and portion manifestions there 
is a hybrid of the two types {amsa-kala). The part manifestations 
(antsa) are parts of God’s omniscience and omnipotence which 
enter the phenomenal process on the behalf of men. For instance 
in canto eight Suka says that, when Aditi received the gift of 
giving birth to a manifestation of Hari, she waited upon her 
husband Kasyapa. Kasyapa meditated and saw “a part (amsa) of 
Hari entering his self. He then placed his seed long conserved by 

30. 1.3.26 : avatara hyasarpkhyeya hareh sattvanidherdvijah/yatha’vida- 
sinalj kulyah sarasahsyuh sahasrasah// 

31. X.51.37 : janmakarmabhidhanani santi me’nga sahasrasah/ na 
sakhyante’nusamkhyatumanantatvanmayapi hi// 

32. X.51.38: kvacidrajamsi vimame parthivanyurujanmabhih/ gunakar- 
mabhidhanani na me janmani karhicit// Cf. Rg Veda 1. 154.1a. 

33. 1. 3. 18a : ete camsakalah pumsah. ../ 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purarta 

penance in Adi ti .” 34 In this manner Bhagavan entered the human 
race in the form of Kapila, who was thus a part manifestation of 
Bhagavan. The part manifestation can take place by Bhagavan 
possessing a person in a unique way; it is a displacement of 
normal human processes by God. On the other hand, the 
portion manifestations (kala) are God-filled persons. In canto 
one the gods are described as portion manifestations . 35 Among 
humans Vyasa, Gaya, Datta, and Kumara are portion mani- 
festations of Hari, persons who are filled with God. The hybrid 
type of manifestation ( amsa-kala ) is part man part God. For 
example the avcitdra Rsabha is of this type. In the fifth canto 
Bhagavan decides to “descend through Nabhi (Rsabha’s father) 
exhibiting a part-portion of my own .” 36 This type of classifi- 
cation is, however, only used sparingly in the Bhagavata, though 
it would find currency in the systematics of those who hold the 
Bhagavata as authoritative. 

The Cosmic Manifestations ( gunavatara ) 

Since creation in the Bhagavata has the purpose of forming a 
realm for the playful sports of Bhagavan, Bhagavan manifests 
himself to superintend the different phases of his creation by 
means of the cosmic manifestations ( gunavatara ). In the process 
of creation from the unmanifest primal nature ( avyakta prakrti) 
there emerge the three constituent qualities ( guna ), the pure 
being ( sattva ), action (rajas), and inertia ( tamas ). In canto one 
Suta describes the qualities which are assumed for the mainte- 
nance, creation, and destruction of the universe. The Highest 
Person accepts for this purpose the forms of Hari, Virinci, and 
Hara . 37 Here the name of Bhagavan’s manifestation varies accord- 
ing to the mission of the particular quality. Again in canto 
three Vidura asks Maitreya to “kindly recount the glorious 
activities of him who is the abode of Sri and of him who creates, 

34. VIII.17.23ab : pravisfamatmani hareramsarp hyavitatheksanah/ 
so’dityam viryamadhatta tapasa cirasambhrtam/Cf. IV.14.22- 1X22 21- 
X.15.9; X.4.17. 

35. Cf. 1.3.27- 

36. V.3.18: tata agmdhriyem’sakalaya’vatarisyamyatmatulyamanupala- 


37. Cf. 1.2.23. 

The Identity of Bhagavan 


destroys and maintains the universe through the cosmic 
manifestations .” 38 The doctrine of the cosmic manifestations or 
the trimurti of Bhagavan coordinates each of the three great 
gods of Hinduism with the one quality to which he is suited and 
thereby subordinates them to the Supreme Deity, Bhagavan 
Krsna, who is ultimately beyond the process of creation while 
these gods are not. Thus Visnu is the pure being (sattva), 
Brahma is action (rajas), and Siva is inertia (tamas). In canto 
four the Bhagavata emphasizes the unity and inter-relatedness 
of the cosmic manifestations: “O Brahman, he who sees no 
difference between the three of us who are essentially one and the 
selves of all creatures attains peace .” 39 The cosmic manifestations 
are thus the mediators of reality from the absolute reality of 
Bhagavan to the relative reality of each individual being. Actually 
they are identical with Bhagavan and an expression of his non- 
duality. The equation of Visnu, however, with the quality of pure 
being (sattva) is in accord with his preeminence, in the minds of 
Vaisnavas, over Brahma and especially over Siva. The Bhagavata 
in the first canto recalls that formerly Visnu was worshipped as 
the preeminent God: “Formerly sages worshipped Bhagavan 
Adhoksaja, who is pure being .” 40 But in the Kali age now that 
Krsna has appeared and made himself known the true identity 
of Bhagavan as Krsna, and the subordination of Visnu to him, 
is apparent. 

The Presiding Manifestations (vyuha) 

The former supremacy of Visnu and his current subordination 
to Krsna is further illustrated in the Bhagavata' s absorption of 
the Pancaratra doctrine of the presiding manifestations (vyuha) 
within its teaching about the avataras. There is a definite down- 
grading of the role and place of the presiding manifestations in 
the Bhagavata in contrast to the Pancaratra literature. They 

38. III.7.28 : >u i vatarairvisvasya sargasthityapyayasrayam/ srjatah 

srinivasasya vyacaksvodaravikramam// 

39. IV.7.54 : trayanamekabhavanam yo na pasyati vai bhidam/ sarva- 
bbutatmanam brahmansa santimadhigacchati// 

40. 1.2.25 : bhejire munayo’thagre bhagavantamadhoksajam/sattvam 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

The Identity of Bhagavan 


play only a peripheral role in the Bhagavata' s teaching, being used 
chiefly as titles and epithets. However, three passages give some 
emphasis to the presiding deities. In canto four the presiding 
manifestations are given a cosmological function: 

Praise to Vasudeva who has a lotus sprung from his navel, 
who is the Self of the senses and the subtle elements, who 
is tranquil, immutable, and self-luminous. 

Praise to Samkarsana, who is subtle, infinite, who brings 
the end (of the universe), and to Pradyumna who is the 
highest knowledge of the universe in the interior Self. 

Praise, praise to Aniruddha, the self of the mind, presiding 
over the senses. 41 

There is a Vedantic cosmological teaching here, which contrasts 
with the Samkhya of the Bhagavata' s usual teaching. However, 
as the following two passages show, consistency is lacking in the 
Bhagavata' s use of the presiding manifestation doctrine. In 
canto three Kapila, in the midst of his teaching about Samkhya, 
connects that doctrine with the doctrine of the presiding mani- 
festations (v yiiha). Kapila correlates the cosmic intelligence (citta) 
or great principle ( mahat ) with the presiding manifestation 
Vasudeva. The threefold ego ( ahamkara ) is connected with 
Samkarsana and mind (manas) is joined to Aniruddha. 42 Strange- 
ly there is no mention here of the third presiding manifestation, 
Pradyumna, and only Aniruddha can be correlated with the 
functions described in the previous passage. Finally in canto 
twelve there is a description of Tantric teaching, which is closely 
related to the Pancaratra. Here the four presiding manifestations 
are compared to the four states of the empirical ego : the waking 
state, dreaming, deep sleep, and the fourth state or self-reali- 
zation. Each presiding manifestation presides over a state, 
Vasudeva over the fourth state, Samkarsana over deep sleep, 
Pradyumna over dreaming, and Aniruddha over the waking 

41. IV.24.34-36a namah pankajanabhaya bhutasuksmendriyatmane/ 
vasudevaya santaya kutasthaya svarocise// sarnkarsanaya suksmaya duranta- 
yantakaya ca/ namo visvaprabodhaya pradyumnayantaratmane// namo- 
namo’niruddhaya hrslkesendriyatmane/ 

42. Cf. 111.26.21,95,28. 

state. 43 There is no mention in canto twelve of any cosmological 
significance for the presiding manifestations. The inconsistency 
of these three passages about the presiding manifestations 
( vyuha) can be seen in the following chart : 

IV. 24. 34-36 

III.26. 21-28 XII. 11.21-23 

Vasudeva-transcendent -intelligence 

Samkarsana-destroyer -ego 

Pradyumna-cosmic knowledge 
Aniruddha-over the senses -mind 

-self realization 
-deep sleep 
-waking state 

Thus we can see that the presiding manifestation {vyuha) doctrine 
so elaborately developed in the Pancaratra Samhitas remains 
peripheral to the theology of the Bhagavata. In so far as it is 
used at all, it is inconsistent. The fact that it has been included 
in the Bhagavata is probably due to the eclectic tendency of the 

The Play Manifestations ( lilavatara ) 

What is usually understood by the term avatdra or manifest- 
ation is described in the Bhagavata as the play manifestation 
(lilavatara) of Bhagavan in the world of humans. The play 
manifestations are the main subjects of the Bhagavata' s narrations. 
In canto one Siita says that Bhagavan creates the different 
worlds and appears for sport ( lilavatara ) in the guise of gods, 
human beings, and animals. His purpose is to protect by means 
of his quality of pure being (sattva). ii In canto two hearing about 
this kind of manifestation “dries up the impurities of the ears and 
is pleasing to the heart and to be relished.” 45 The cosmic 
manifestations are concerned with the universe and the pre- 
siding manifestations with the states of a person’s mind; the 
play manifestation ( lilavatara ) is Bhagavan come to dwell 
among men in his different forms — man, animal, fish, etc. 
Bhagavan’s main purpose is the protection of the universe and of 
his creatures. As Prahlada says in canto seven: “In this way you 

43. Cf. XII. 11. 21-23. 

44. Cf. 1.2.34. 

45. II.6.45b : aplyatam karnakasayasosananukamisye ta imansupesan// 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

The Identity of Bhagavdn 


protect the world and kill the people’s enemies through the 
manifestations as man, beasts, sages, gods, and the fish, O Great 
Person; you maintain the religious status ( dharma ) prevalent in 
each age .” 46 Bhagavan also comes to earth “in deference to the 
wishes of the devotees .” 47 The devotees would be bereft of their 
innermost self without Bhagavan. He assumes a human form in 
order to win the confidence of men and to show them the glory 
and splendor of the Divine Being. While one purpose of a 
manifestation is to rid the earth of demons, “the human mani- 
festation of the Lord is really for the instruction of mankind .” 48 
Because he comes to teach men how to live and to follow the 
highest religious teaching, the Lord performs actions which are 
paradigmatic or examples which reveal the meaning of life. For 
instance, the Lord, who is satisfied in his Self, sported in the 
form of Rama with SIta. The purpose of this manifestation is to 
instruct men in the hidden inner meaning of life . 49 The intensity 
of the Lord’s separation from her is to teach men what happens 
when they are attached to worldly pleasures. In addition it 
illustrates the importance of woman’s fidelity. 

Another motive for Bhagavan’s manifestations is to show men 
the way to liberation : “O Lord, I resort to you who have en- 
kindled the lamp of your glory by means of your play mani- 
festations. Those selves wander in the cycle of death and rebirth 
and do not know how to achieve final liberation from the body, 
which is the source of evil .” 60 Thus Krsna is the greatest source 
of inspiration because he attracted the people with his personality 
which towered over all others. He taught the people with 
his words and freed them from the effects of their actions. 
He retired to his abode because now the singing of his fame 
and spreading of his renown suppresses the darkness. 

46. VII. 9. 38 : ittham nrtiiyagrsidevaspasavatarairlokanvibhavayasi 

hamsi jagatpratipan/ dharmam mahapurusa pasi yuganuvrttam channah...// 

47. X.59.25b : . . .bhakteccha...// 

48. V.19.5a: martyavatarastviha martyasiksanam . ..kevalarri vibhoh/ 

49. Cf. V.19.5b. 

50. X.70.39 : jlvasya yah samsarato vimoksanam na janato’ narthava- 
haccharlratah/ lilavataraih svayasah pradipakam prajvalayattva tamaham 
prapady e// 

While the Bhagavata includes Kr?na in its lists of the mani- 
festations, it also identifies him in a special way with the Bhagavan 
who so manifests himself. In canto ten the Bhagavata says that 
it is Krsna who manifests himself through the manifestations 
(avatar a) in order “to relieve the burden of earth . . .having 
descended in the form of a fish, horse, tortoise, man-lion, bear, 
goose, king, Brahman, and God .” B1 The Bhagavata also describes 
Krsna as a part manifestation (arpsd) when it says that Bhagavan 
entered the mind of Krsna’s father “with all his divine potencies 
constituting part manifestations of his being .” 52 In another place 
Krsna is described as a portion manifestation ( kala ): “You have 
appeared on earth by your portion manifestations for protecting 
religion (dharma)." 53 It has been seen that all manifestations are 
consubstantial with Bhagavan, though they may only partially 
manifest his being. This accords with Bhagavata' s non-dualism. 
The Krsna manifestation, however, stands out. The original 
questions of the sages singled out the Krsna story and Suta’s 
reply to those questions affirmed Krsija’s singular identification 
with Bhagavan. While listing Krsna among the twenty-four 
manifestations ( amsakala ) of Bhagavan through the Person 
(purufa), Suta definitively states: “Krsna indeed is Bhagavan 
himself .” 54 Sridhara in his comment on this text emphasizes 
Krsna’s uniqueness: Krsna is perfect (purria) because all poten- 
cies are seen to be in full swing in this Descent. Though the 
other Descents like the Fish and the Tortoise do emanate from 
the same reality, i.e. Bhagavan, yet all the potencies are not 
brought into play in the case of the other Descents .” 55 Thus the 
same context describes Krsna as both part ( apisa ) and full 
(purnd) manifestation. Yet the meaning is clear. The Bhagavata 
is emphatic in describing Krsna as Bhagavan, and in its total 

51. X.2.40a : matsyasvakacchapanrsimhavarahaharpsarajanyavipravibt> 

dhesu krtavatarah / 

52. X.2.16b : avivesamsabhagena mana anakadundubheh// 

53. X.89.59 : . .bhuvi dharmaguptaye/ kalavatlrnavavaner, . .// 

54. I.3.28a :...krsnastu bhagavansvayam/ 

55. Bhagavata Bhdvdrtha Dipika on 1.3.28. quoted in Bhattacarya, The 
Philosophy of the Srimad-Bhagavata, I, 88 : tatra matsyadlnani avataratvena 
sarvajnatve sarvasaktimattve’pi yathopayogarp eva jnanalcriyasakyaviskara- 
nam...krsnas tu saksat bhagavan narayana eva aviskrtasarvasaktimattvat/ 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhdgavata Pur ana 

import subordinates every other manifestation to that of 
Krsna. Perhaps as Sridhara suggests, the Bhagavata allows 
the ascription of a partial character to the Krsna manifes- 
tation as a concession to the partial nature of the perception of 
the observer. 

Krsna is the complete (purna) manifestation. The first nine 
cantos described his earlier manifestations, the tenth deals with 
his life and activities exclusively. They first nine cantos form a 
prologue, teaching indeed about Bhagavan Krsna, but only in 
order to show forth his full glory and splendor in the tenth 
canto. The Bhdgavata never describes Krsna as merely a man. 
He is always the Supreme Deity, but all the same definitely a 
man. Thus at his birth to Devaki, Vasudeva, his father, saw an 
extraordinary sight. Krsna was beheld in all his divine nature 
with four arms holding the accouterments of Visnu, the conch, 
mace, and discus. He was wearing the Srivatsa curl and the 
Kaustubha gem. 66 Thus his birth as a human is also a divine 
epiphany. Whenever he hid his divine nature, an exquisite human 
beauty was beheld by his friends in Vrndavana: “Krsna of dark 
blue complexion, wearing a golden silk garment, dressed like 
an actor with a wreath of forest flowers, peacock feathers and 
leaves, beautified with mineral paints, who rested one hand on 
the shoulders of his companions and dangled a lotus in the 
other, with lilies gracing his ears, and curls of hair hanging on 
his cheeks, a smile on his face.” 67 

Such is the perfect young boy in his rustic garb that the cow- 
herd girls beheld and yearned for. The place of his boyhood 
becomes diaphanous with his transcendence. The Bhdgavata '' s 
description of Vrndavana oscillates between heaven and earth. 
It is as much a matter of Krsna bringing a piece of earth up to 
heaven as of Krsna bringing heaven down to earth. Vrndavana 
by Krsna’s presence becomes a paradigm of heavenly existence. 
Thus Brahma exclaims that his greatest fortune would be to be 
born “in Gokula bathing in the dust of its inhabitants’ feet, for 

56. Cf. X.3.9-10. 

57. X.23.22 : syamam hiranyaparidhirp vanamalyabarhadhatupravala- 
natavesamanuvratamse/ vinyastahastamitarena dhunanamabjarp karnotpala- 

The Identity of Bhagavan 69 

their entire life is completely Bhagavan Mukunda; indeed even 
now the Vedas seek the dust of his feet.” 58 

This Krsna is the Self of all living beings. For the good of the 
world and its inhabitants he descends by means of his creative 
energy in the form of a human. If one knows him, then he knows 
everything that can be known. Everything becomes a mani- 
festation of him, who is the cause of everything. 59 The Bhdgavata 
repeatedly affirms the non-dual meaning of the Krsna mani- 
festation. He dwells in the hearts of all his created beings the 
way fire resides in wood. Everyone is equally dear to him; he is 
the same to all. He has no mother, father, wife, nor children; no 
action is his, “but for the sake of sport and for the protection 
of the righteous he is born in the good, bad, and mixed (kinds of 
species).” 60 

Although he is beyond the qualities, he assumes the qualities 
for the sake of men. “Nothing which is seen or heard, which has 
happened, is now, or is to come, nothing which is immobile or 
mobile, large or small, should be named apart from Acyuta; for 
only he is everything and real.” 61 

Here Krsna is clearly identified as the Supreme Being. He 
assumes the titles of Visnu, who becomes a mere cosmic mani- 
festation. As the complete {purna) manifestation of the Supreme 
Being he has entered his own creation for the purpose of play 
{Ilia). Krsna, when he sported among the cowherd girls, per- 
fectly manifested the being and splendor of the Supreme Deity 
and he perfectly revealed his ultimate purpose and his divine 
nature. He is one, non-dual, above all qualities, yet these 
qualities are contained in him. The Bhdgavata describes Krsna 
from a difierence-in-identity ( hliedabheda ) viewpoint. He is 
non-dual with qualifications ( savisesddvaita ). Without grounding 

58. X.14.34 : tadbhiiribhagyamihajanma kimapyafavyaip yadgokule’pi 
katamanghriraj obhi selcam/ yajjivitarp tu nikhilam bhagavanmukundastva- 
dyapi yatpadarajah srutimrgyameva// 

59. Cf. X.14.55-57. 

60. X.46.39 : na casya karma va loke sadasanmisrayonisu/ kridarthah 
so’pi sadhunam paritranaya kalpate// 

61. X.46.43 : drastam srutam bhutabhavadbhavisyat sthasnuscarisnur- 
mahadalpakam ca/vina’cyutadvastu taram na vacyarn sa eva sarvarp para- 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

this position philosophically to the extent the later Vaisnava 
acaryas would attempt, the Bhagavata' s redactor, as a Bhagavata 
devoted to Krsna, appealed to the non-dualism of Vaisnavism 
and Vedanta, within a Samkhya framework, since Krsna was 
really active and involved in his creation. In the next chapter 
we shall describe how these apparently contradictory assertions 
are warranted by an intense devotion to Krsna, the Supreme 

Chapter V 


The Forms of Devotion 

The Bhagavata has been described as “ a working paper for 
the bhakti movment, not a clearly formulated and rigidly edited 
document .” 1 2 It reflects the long history, development, and 
heritage of the Vaisnava devotional movement, being sepa- 
rated from the Bhagavad Gita by as much as a millennium. It also 
reflects the new tumultuous ferment of Vaisnavism’ s transition 
to Krsnaism. The Bhagavata is a quite different document 
from the Bhagavad Gita because the devotion it preaches incor- 
porates the sweetness ( madhurya ) aspect of Krsna’s character 
as a romantic lover, which at the time of the Bhagavata was 
displacing the powerful ( aiivarya ) aspect of his character as a 
warrior prince. The present chapter will treat the conservative 
aisvarya trend of devotion as a meditative process, which was 
derived from the Bhagavad Gita, while the next chapter will 
consider the Bhagavata' s innovative devotion as emotional and 
loving ecstasy, which was derived from sources like the Alvars. 

Devotion is closely linked with the idea of a personal God, 
who bestows divine grace on his devotee who, in his turn, 
responds with devotional service to the Deity. Although hints 
of devotion are found in the Upanisads, its first clear exposition 
is found in the Bhagavad Gita} Here it is already bound up 
with the non-dualism of the Upanisads. The highest being, 
Krsna, even though he contains the entire cosmos and is 
inconceivable, reveals himself in a physical, adorable form. The 

1. Hopkins, “Vaishnava Bhakti Movement in the Bhagavata Purana,'” 

p. 164. 

2. Jaiswal, Origin and Development of Vaisnavism, p. 112. 

72 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

devotee, by the grace of Krsna, forms a feeling of intimacy 
with him, like that between friends, or between father and 
son, or lover and beloved. Arjuna says: ‘‘Therefore bowing 
down and prostrating my body before you. Adorable 
Lord, I seek your grace; you, O God, should bear with 
me as a father to his son, as a friend to his friend, as a lover 
to his beloved.” 3 There is no tinge here of emotional love of 
the devotee for the Lord since the Gita is always conscious 
of the transcendence of the Deity. 4 Devotion is accompanied 
by intellectual conviction and faith: “The great-souled, O 
Partha, who abide in the divine nature, knowing me as the 
imperishable source of all beings, worship me with an undis- 
tracted mind.” 5 Thus devotion arises out of faith in the Deity: 
“Endowed with that faith, he seeks the worship of such a one 
and from him he obtain his desires, the benefits being decreed 
by me alone.” 6 Erotic mystical devotion is practically totally 
absent; devotion is for the learned and the wise, who can follow 
the path of knowledge. The emphasis is on a quiet, simple faith 
which worships Krsna the warrior prince. 

The Bhagavata makes extensive use of the type of devotion 
found in the Gita, and especially develops its links to the 
path of knowledge and to Yoga. As in the Gita, devotion in 
the Bhagavata is often called a discipline (yoga), a means to 
final liberation ( sddhana ). In canto one the discipline of devotion 
(bhaktiyoga) is described as the motive for Vyasa’s composing 
the Bhagavata. The context links devotion to the practice of 
meditation on the Supreme Person: “In his sinless mind 
perfectly concentrated by means of the discipline of devotion, he 
saw the Primal Person and his creative energy, which depends 

3. Bhagavad Gita XI.44 : tasmatpranamya pranidhaya kayam prasadaye 
tvamahamlsamldyam/ piteva putrasya sakheva sakhyuh priyah priyayarhasi 
deva sodhum // Translated by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan in Sarvepalli 
Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy 
(Princeton : Princeton University Press, 1957), p. 142. 

4. Ch. Vaudeville, “Evolution of Love-Symbolism in Bhagavatism,” 
Journal of the American Oriental Society, LXXXIi (March 1962), 33. 

5. Bhagavad Gita IX. 13 : mahatmanastu mam partha daivlm prakrti- 
masritah/ bhajantyananyamanaso jnatva bhutadimavyayam// p. 133. 

6. Bhagavad Gita VII.22 : sa taya sraddhaya yuktastasyaradhanami- 

hate/ labhate ca tatah kamanmayaiva vihitanhi tan// p. 128. 

Devotion : The Reality of Bhagavan 73 

on him.” 7 The individual self deluded by the creative energy 
indentifies itself with the sphere of the three qualities, although 
the three qualities, do not touch Bhagavan’s essence. This 
identification brings evil consequences. Since most men are 
unaware that the discipline of devotion to Krsna counteracts 
those evil consequences, Vyasa composed the Bhagavata 
so that “by listening to this, devotion to Krsna the Supreme 
Person, arises, which dispels a person’s fear, delusion, and 
sorrow.” 8 Devotion overcomes this bondage by surpassing 
the realm of Bhagavan’s creative energy and centers its attention 
exclusively on Krsna. Merely listening to his exploits stirs up 
the sentiment of devotion. Devotion is the goal of devotion as 
well as the means. Thus Vyasa composed the Bhagavata for the 
common people whose ignorance will be thereby dispelled. 

Devotion also takes one away from the self-concern and self- 
centeredness of certain types of Yoga and ritual action. It brings 
one to think only of Bhagavan. In canto two Suka tells 
Parlksit : ‘‘O King, even ascetics who have turned away from 
abiding by commandments and prohibitions and who are beyond 
the realm of the qualities delight in discoursing about the quali- 
ties of Hari.” 9 Every other goal, even the selfless states pursued 
by the ascetics, is put aside in order to devote oneself comp- 
letely to the service of Bhagavan. In conto three Kapiia tells his 
mother DevahutI that the ‘‘devotees of Bhagavan delight in the 
service of my feet and are happily engaged in activities for my 
sake. With deep interest and affection, they enjoy describing to 
one another my human exploits. They never desire to become 
one self with me.” 10 Llere the highest goal of the non-dualist 
sages which is absorption (ekatmatdm) is superceded by devo- 
tion, although as we shall see, the Bhagavata is not consistent on 
this point. Devotion because it keeps Bhagavan always in view 
transcends liberation ( mukti ). 

7. 1.7.4 : bhaktiyogena manasi samyak pranihite’male/ apasyatpurusam 
purvam mayam ca tadupasrayam// 

8. 1.7.7 : yasyam vai sruyamanayani krsne paramapuruse/ bhaktiiutpa- 
dyate pumsah sokamohabhayapaha// 

9. II. 1.7 : prayena munayo rajannivrtta vidhisedhatah nairgunyastha 
ramante sma gunanukathanehareh// 

10. 111.25.34 : naikatmatam me sprhayanti kecinmatpadasevabhirata 
madlhah/ ye’nyonyato bhagavatah prasajjya sabhajayante mama pauru?ani// 

~4 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

Having distinguished devotion from liberation, the Bhagavata 
gives a definition of devotion. In canto three Kapila defines 
devotion twice. The first definition is in chapter twenty-three 
where devotion is a natural inclination of the senses, whose 
objects are the qualities and whose actions are in accord with 
Scripture, toward the quality of pure being ( sattva ) which is the 
quality nearest to Bhgavan. 11 This motiveless devotion is superior 
to final beatitude itself. It quickly dissolves the body just as the 
stomach consumes what is eaten. The effort to reach beatitude 
is imperfect since it is concerned with the self. If the hindrances 
present in the realm of the qualities be removed, the senses 
will follow their natural inclination and seek out Bhagavan. 
Devotion is thus the natural inclination to center one’s attention 
upon Bhagavan, which occurs when all personal motives have 
been removed. Both the entanglement of the senses in the 
performance of the Vedic injunctions and the disentanglement 
of the senses from the performance of the injunctions in 
the search for beatitude ( siddhi ) obscure the natural end of 
the person which is devotional service to Bhagavan. 

Another definition of devotion is given in the twenty-ninth 
chapter of canto three where Kapila, who is a manifestation 
of Bhagavan, says that “the mind incessantly flows to me, who 
reside in the hearts of all, by means of listening to my qualities, 
just as the water of the Ganges continuously moves to the 
ocean. This is the defining characteristic of the discipline of 
devotion which is without qualities and without ulterior 
motive; it is without cause, this uninterrupted devotion to the 
Supreme Person.” 12 There is a natural affinity of the devotee 
for Bhagavan. His devotion is never interrupted because the 
devotee recognizes the presence of Bhagavan within his heart. 
This presence is in no way contaminated by the qualities of 
material or psychic nature. Yet the presence of Bhagavan is not 
exclusively interior. The prompting cause of this movement to 
Bhagavan is the “listening to my qualities”, which suggests that 

11. Cf. III.25.32-33a. 

12. III. 29.1 1-12 : madgunasrutimatrena mayi sarvaguhasaye/ manoga- 
tiravicchinna tatha gangambhaso’mbudhau//Iaksanam bhaktiyogasya nirgu- 
nasya hyudahrtam/ ahaitukyavyavahita ya bhaktih purusottame// 

Devotion : The Reality of Bhagavan 


the entrance of Bhagavan as an avatdra into the sphere of the 
qualities is the external exemplar for the interior movement. 

Just as it is not sufficient to be concerned with self-libera- 
tion, so too devotion, for the Bhagavata , does not turn in on 
itself in an exclusive one-to-one relationship with the Lord. The 
devotee, who is saddened by the lack of devotion in others, lives 
not for himselfbut for others. As Saunaka says of the king 
Pariksit that “men who are devoted to his highest praises live 
for the happiness, affluence, and prosperity of the world and 
not for themselves.” 13 Thus the Bhagavata on occasion gives a 
positive value to the world. It tells a king to be concerned tor 
his subjects. A more profound concern is exhibited in canto 
seven by Prahlada : “O Supreme, my mind is immersed in the 
great nectar of songs of your deeds; I am not afraid to cross the 
river Vaitarani, which is so hard to cross; I lament only for the 
deluded who being averse carry on the burden of the family in 
hope of securing the pleasures of the creative energy’s sense 
objects.” 14 Prahlada is not one of those ascetics who desire their 
own liberation and thus practice quiet meditation in solitude, un- 
interested in others. He does “not wish to be liberated alone.” 15 
So he says that there is no other refuge than Bhagavan for 
those who are perplexed about the meaning of life. 

Devotion is both motiveless and causeless. Since devotion is 
the highest religious duty of men, it must be completely un- 
sullied by any base motive or cause from any other duty. 
Krsna is himself its only cause and accompanying devotion to 
him is knowledge and detachment. These two are subordinated 
to devotion. Devotion brings knowledge and knowledge brings 
detachment but not vice versa since devotion is causeless, 
springing only from the grace of Krsria. Saunaka in canto one 
expresses surprise that anyone would want to move beyond the 
ascetic’s delight in the self ( dtmurama ) to devotion. He remarks 

13. 1.4.12 : sivaya lokasya bhavaya bhutaye ya uttamaslokaparayana 
janah jivanti natmarthamasau parasrayam mumoca nirvidya kutah kale- 
varam / 

14. VII.9.43 : naivodvije para duratyayavaitaranyastvadvxryagayanama- 
hamrtamagnacittah/ soce tato vimukhacetasa indriyartbamayasukhaya 
bharamudvahato vimtidhan // 

15. VII.9.44b : . . . vimumuksa eko na ...// 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

that Suka was “devoid of attachment to the world and in- 
different to everything. Why did he, who was delighting in the 
self, turn to this large book .” 10 To which Suta replies that “even 
sages who delight in the self and are freed from the knots of 
ignorance practice motiveless devotion to the Wide-Strider be- 
cause the qualities of Hari are so wonderful .” 17 Being free from 
the state of bondage and free from ignorance is not the reason 
the sages practice devotion. Devotion is not caused by any prior 
state in the devotee. The devotee is attracted to Bhagavan be- 
cause of his great qualities and thus leaves behind his own 
accomplishments, no matter how great. 

In canto eleven there is a description of the devotee of 
Bhagavan, particularly of those qualities which make him be- 
loved by Bhagavan. Hari (a sage) says that “he is the foremost 
devotee of Bhagavan who sees his own self existing in all be- 
ings^ as Bhagavan and sees all beings in the self which is Bhaga- 
van .” 18 The devotee sees Bhagavan present everywhere since he 
is part of Bhagavan and everywhere Bhagavan is, he is. He 
does not discriminate between creatures but is devoted to them 
all as forms of Bhagavan. Hari continues : “He is the foremost 
devotee of Bhagavan who, grasping objects with his senses, 
neither hates nor delights in them since he sees this world as 
the creative energy of Visnu .” 19 The universe is Visnus creation, 
as such the devotee does not disdain it, but because the creative 
energy is also the cause of delusion among men, the devotee 
keeps his distance and is detached from it. “He is the devotee 
of Bhagavan, who by remembering Hari, is not confused by the 
conditions of death-rebirth cycles such as birth and death 
affecting the body, hunger and thirst (harassing) the vital 

16. 1.7.9 : sa vai nivrttiniratah sarvatropeksako munih/ kasya va brhati- 
metamatmaramah samabhyasat// 

17. 1.7.10 : atmaramasca munayo nirgrantha apyurukrame/ kurvantya- 
haituklrp bhaktimitthambhutaguno harih// 

18. XI.2.45 : sarvabhutesu yah pasyedbhagavadbhavamatmanah/ 

bhutani bhagavatyatmanyesa bhagavatottamah// Cf. Bhagavad Gita VI. 30 : 
yo mam pasyati sarvatra sarvarn ca mayi pasyati/ tasyahani na pranasyami 
sa ca me na pranasyati// “He who sees me everywhere and sees all in me — 

I am not lost to him nor is he lost to me.” p. 25. 

19. XI. 2. 48 : gihitvapindriyairarthan yo na dvesthi na hrnyati/ visnor- 
mayamidam pasyansa vai bhagavatottamah// 

Devotion : The Reality of Bhagavan 


principle, fear (worrying) the mind, desire (exciting) the intellect 
and fatigue exhausting the senses .” 20 In the mind of the devotee 
the seeds of desire and action never sprout . 21 Devotion thus re- 
moves the causes of the death-rebirth cycle ( samsdra ). The only 
refuge is Krsria. The devotee does not identify himself with his 
body. He takes no pride in anything he has done or anything he 
is, such as his caste or stage in life ( asrama ). He is tranquil be- 
cause all things are equal in his eyes. Indeed, Hari continues: 
“He is the foremost Vai'snavawho will not allow the memory of 
the Lord to be interrupted even for half a wink for gaining the 
sovereignty of the three worlds. Nor does he waver even for 
half the twinkling of the eyelid from the lotus-feet of Bhagavan 
which are sought by the gods and others who have never subdued 
the self .” 22 The foremost devotee is the one whom the Lord does 
not leave since the two are tied together by the cord of love. For 
the Bhagavata the quality of devotion is commensurate with the 
quality of the devotee’s knowledge or vision of the divine 
Krsna. The highest devotion is to see God’s presense engulfing 
all his creatures. The details of that creation are not disregarded 
but integrated into a vision of the divine unity of Bhagavan 
and his creatures. Thus the devotion here described is closely 
akin to the way of knowledge. 

The Bhagavata, following the tradition of the Bhagavad Gita, 
opens up the benefits of devotion to everyone, regardless of 
class, caste, sex, or race . 23 The Kiratas, Huns, Andhras, Pulindas, 
Pulkasas, Abhiras, Kankas, Yavanas, Khasas, “and others are 
purged of their sins, even by taking refuge in those who depend 
on him .” 24 This inclusiveness was not intended to be mere 
theory. Bhagavan’s power is unlimited and he works through 

20. XI.2.49 : dehendriyapranamanodhiyani yo janmapyayaksudbhaya- 
tarsakrccraih/ samsaradharmairavimuhyamah srnytya harerbhagavatapra- 

21. Cf. XI. 2. 50. 

22. XI.2.53 -. tribhuvanavibhavahetave’pyakundhasmrtirajitatmasuradi- 
bhirvimrgyat/ na calati bhagavatpadaravindallavanimisardhamapi yah sa 

23. Cf. Bhagavad Gita IX.30-32. 

24. II.4.18 : kiratahunandhrapulindapulkasa abhlrakaiika yavanah 

khasadayah/ ye’nye ca papa yadupasrayasrayafi sudhyanti . . .// 

78 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhdgavata Pur ana 

his devotees who on his behalf extend that power to other 

The Bhdgavata also considers forms of devotion which are 
imperfect. The imperfection resides in the attitude of the devotee. 
Since perfect devotion comes from Bhagavan himself, it is not 
subject to degrees since devotion is ultimately Bhagavan’s own 
attitude toward himself. Degrees of perfection in devotion are 
attributed to the individual’s progress toward purity from the 
effects of the three qualities ( guna ). The mind is constituted of a 
mixture of the three qualities in varying degrees. Hence, the 
Bhdgavata accordingly classifies imperfect devotion into three 
types, devotion of pure consciousness ( sdttvika ), of action 
( rajasa ), and of inertia ( tamasa ), depending upon which quality 
predominates in the mind and attitude of the devotee. As Kapila 
tells Devahuti in canto three: “The discipline of devotion is of 
many kinds according to the different paths; the objects of men 
differ according to their natural dispositions and qualities.’’ 25 

The devotion of a devotee in whom inertia ( tamos ) predomi- 
nates is the lowest kind: “He who becomes my devotee with the 
intention of doing injury or out of hypocrisy and jealously or out 
of anger, or with an outlook full of differences is an inertial type 
( tamasa)." 26 The man who worships through an image, who 
makes distinctions between things and himself, and who seeks 
fame and power is of the action type (rajasa). The lower types of 
devotion put a distinction between the devotee and Bhagavan. 
There is still gratification in the objects of the senses and 
Bhagavan is treated as an object of the senses who gives grati- 
fication. This devotee is still not of one mind and heart with 
Bhagavan. “He who wishes to purge all karmas, or desires to 
dedicate them to the Supreme Lord, or worships the Lord with 
the simple objective of worship but entertains the idea of 
difference, is of the pure consciousness ( sdttvika ) type.” 27 How- 
ever even the pure consciousness devotee is still not pure. He 

25. IH.29.7 : bnaktiyogo bahuvidho margairbhamini bhavyate/ svabha- 
vagunamargena pumsam bhavo vibhidyate// 

26. III.29.8 : abhisamdhaya yo himsarn dambham matsaryameva va' 
sarnrambhi bhinnadrgbhavam mayi kuryatsa tamasah // 

27. III.29.10 : karmanirharamuddisya parasminva tadarpapam/ yajed- 
yastavyamiti va prthagbhavah sa sattvikah// 

Devotion : The Reality of Bhagavan 79 

has not attained devotion beyond the qualities (nirguna), which 
contaminate the motive of the devotee. Pure devotion is not 
vitiated by the personal motives of the devotee, which separate 
him from Bhagavan and preclude his assimilation to Bhagavan. 
The qualities vitiate devotion at its most essential point since 
they introduce a distinction between the devotee and Bhagavan. 

In spite of the classification of devotion according to the 
constituent qualities, there is, however, the Bhdgavata' s para- 
doxical view that hatred can function as a form of saving 
devotion. The two views are not consistent, at least not appar- 
ently, yet the Bhdgavata does provide a reconciliation. In canto 
seven Narada says that “one should fix one’s mind on him 
through constant enmity, through the absence of enmity, 
through fear, hatred, or desire.” 28 Surely fear and hatred stem 
from the qualities of inertia ( tamas ) or of action (rajas). How- 
ever, the Bhdgavata suggests a solution to this dilemma by means 
of its teaching on reincarnation and merit. Those who were 
saved by hatred or fear had in some previous life merited liber- 
ation, but because of a flaw, demerit, or curse were condemned 
to death and rebirth. A special grace was then given to them on 
account of their merit. The grace was the opportunity to meet 
Bhagavan Krsna or one of his manifestations in combat. As 
Narada tells Yudhisthira: “To free them from the curse, he slew 
them in that birth, in the form of the hero Rama... Their sins 
were destroyed by Krsna’s discus and they have been freed from 
the curse.” 29 

Characteristics of Devotion 

The Bhdgavata in no less than twenty passages enumerates 
the forms and kinds of actions which characterize devotion. It 
is clear that, while the lists consist of actions, devotion consists 
of a pure interior attitude of attentive service to Bhagavan. 
For example in canto three Kapila talks of the following 

28. VII. 1.25 : Sasmadvairanubandhena nirvairena bhayena va/ snehat- 
kamena va yunjyatkathamcinneksate prthak // 

29. VIII. 1.44a, 45b : tatrapi radhavo bhutva ny ahanacchapamuk taye/ 
ramavlryam . . . adhuna sapanirmuktau krsnacakrahatamhasau// 

80 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhdgavata Parana 

characteristics of devotion. 30 Devotion completely purifies the 
mind of the man who does his religious duty faithfully and 
always performs the prescribed sacrifices without shedd- 
ing blood. The devotee sees, touches, and worships Bhagavan’s 
image. He sees Bhagavan in all things. Truthful and dispas- 
sionate, he is respectful toward great souls and compas- 
sionate toward the poor. He is friendly and practices the injunc- 
tions of Yoga. He listens to spiritual matters, chants Bhagavan’s 
name, and associates with holy men. Thus he gives up egoism. 
These moral virtues and spiritual practices are the religious 
duties ( dharma ) of the Bhdgavata. They incorporate the virtues 
of the holy men of India from the traditions of Yoga, Vedanta, 
Tantrism, etc. The goal of the religion (dharma) of the Bhdgavata 
is stated by Bhagavan in canto eleven: “He visualizes me only, 
manifested in all beings, both internally and externally, like the 
sky. With a pure heart, he should see me within himself 
alone.” 31 Positively the Bhdgavata dharma brings Bhagavan to 
the mind unhindered, negatively it eliminates the subtle body, 
dissolves the realm of primal nature ( prakrti ), and disperses the 
effects of the creative energy. This religious practice frees the 
devotee for devotional service to Bhagavan: “It is my considered 
opinion that of all the paths to God, to perceive my presence in 
all beings in one’s thought, word, and deed is the most 
efficacious one.” 32 

Among religious practices two are singled out by the 
Bhdgavata' s redactor for special attention: the discipline of action 
( karmayoga ) and the ninefold practices of devotion ( navadha 
bhakti). Both of these lead to true devotion. The discipline of 
action is the dedication of the fruits or good results of all 
actions to God. In canto three Kapila praises the discipline of 
action in this way. The living are superior to the non-living, 

30. Cf. 111.29.15-19. In addition characteristics are listed in the follow- 
ing texts : XI.3.23-31 ; VII.11.8-12; V.5. 10-13; III.28.2-7; XI.11.34-41; 
IV. 22. 22-25; III.27.6-11 ; XI.19.20-24; XI.29.9-15; VII.7.30-35; IX.4.18-22; 
II.3. 17-24; VII. 5. 23-24; III.27.21-23; X.10.38; X.86.46; 1.2.14; II 1 5; 
XII. 3. 52. 

31. XI.29.12 : mameva sarvabhutesu bahirantarapavrtam/ iksetatmani 
catmanam yatha khamamalasayah// 

32. XI.29.19 : ayam hi sarvakalpanam sadhricino mato mama / 
madbhavah sarvabhutesu manovakkaya vrttibhih// 

Devotion : The Reality of Bhagavan 81 

animals are superior to plants, intelligent beings are superior 
to animals. Superior to all is all the human. Among humans 
there is a hierarchy: those of caste are superior to those 
without caste, Brahmans are superior to the other castes, and 
among the Brahmans the knowers of the Vedas are the 
best. “One who clears up doubts (about the Vedas) is 
better than he who knows the meaning of the Vedas; better 
is he who does his religious duty {dharma); better than him is 
the person who is free from attachment, and does not do his 
duty for his own gain.” 33 Higher still is the one who offers all 
his actions and their good results to the Lord without any 
hesitation. “I see no higher being than the person who has 
dedicated his self and his actions to me; he is without any sense 
of being an agent and sees all things equally.” 34 Such a person 
treats all things equally because Bhagavan has entered them all 
with a portion ( kala ) of his being and is their inner Lord. The 
efficacy of actions lies in the purity of their dedication to 
Bhagavan. Because the person is present within them as their 
inner controller, a person’s actions are actually Bhagavan’s. By 
means of such an attitude there is a shift of attention from the 
outer world to the inner self where Bhagavan resides in an 
intense manner. Such a person is on the threshold of achieving 
devotion. As Bhagavan Krsna says in canto eleven: “While 
existing in this body, a person strictly follows his own religious 
duty, purged of impurities, he automatically attains true 
knowledge or devotion to me engendered in him.” 35 When 
this stage is reached the necessity for the discipline of 
action disappears, since what was really important, and close 
to the essence of devotion, was the dedication to Bhagavan. 

The Ninefold Practice of Devotion 

The Bhdgavata places a special emphasis on the ninefold 
practice of devotion: “The discipline of devotion, by means of 

33. III.29.32 : arthajnatsamsayacchetta tatah sreyansvakarmakrt/ 
muktasangastato bhuyanadogdha dharmamatmanah 

34. III.29.33b, c : mayyarpitatmanah purpso mayi samnyastakarmanah/ 
na pasyami param bhutamakartuh samadarsanat// 

35. XI. 20.11 : asmimlloke vartamanah svadharmastho’nadhali sucih/ 
jnanani visuddhamapnoti madbhaktim va yadrcchaya// 

82 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

the uttering of Bhagavan’s name, etc., is remembered as the 
highest religious duty ( dharma ) of people in this world.” 36 The 
supreme religion is brought about by the ninefold practice of 
devotion. The practices are enumerated by Prahlada in canto 
seven: (l) hearing, (2) chanting, (3) remembering, (4) service at 
Bhagavan’s feet, (5) offering worship, (6) praising, (7) humility 
or servitude, (8) friendship, and (9) offering one’s self to 
him. 37 

There are three sets of three here. The first three are tradi- 
tional Vaisnava practices and are derived from the Vedas. The 
second three are Tantric practices which center around the 
worship of images. The final three are as much achievements as 
means. The interaction between the devotee and Bhagavan 
initiated in the first two sets of practices culminates in unity 
with him in the last set of three practices. Again the Bhagavata 
has drawn on various traditions to create a synthetic vision in 
which the devotee progressively deepens his attachment to 
Bhagavan until he reaches total surrender. 

The path to Bhagavan begins with listening ( sravana ) to his 
glories. As Suka says in canto two: “Who, having the bliss of 
hearing the stories of Hari, would not take delight in them?” 38 
Further listening to Bhagavan’s glories eradicates the core and 
cause of all a man’s sins: “Q Praiseworthy Lord, the purification 
of the minds of persons with evil propensities does not effect- 
ively take place through worship, learning, Vedic studies, acts of 
charity, penance, or ritual acts as in the minds of persons with 
pure ( sattvika ) nature, through the ever-increasing faith and 
devotion developed by listening to your glory.” 39 

The Bhagavata gives chanting ( klrtana ) a special efficacy for 
those living in the Kali age. 40 The Purana has many instances of 

36. VI. 3. 22 : etavaneva loke’sminpurnsam dharmah parah smrtah/ 
bhaktiyogo bhagavati tannamagrahanadibhib// 

37. VII. 5. 23: sravanam kirtanarp visnoh smaranani padasevanam/ 
arcanam vandanam dasyarn salchyamatmanivedanam// 

38. II.3.12b :.. .ko nirvrto harikathasu ratirp na kuryat // 

39. XI.6.9 : suddhirnrnam natu tathedya durasayanarp vidyasrutadhya- 
yanadanatapahkriyabhih/ sattvatmanamrsabha te yasasi pravrddhasacchra- 
ddhaya sravanasambhrtaya yatha syat// 

40. Cf. XII.3.52. 

Deovtion : The Reality of Bhagavan 83 

devotees singing Bhagavan’s glories. In canto seven Prahlada 
was so swept up in Bhagavan that “sometimes he would sing 
loudly.” 41 In canto two Suka elevates singing to one of the highest 
means of devotion: “O King, this chanting of the name of Hari 
has been prescribed as the sure means of attaining liberation 
for those deserving emancipation, and wishing freedom from 
fear, and for yogins.” 42 

Listening and chanting lead to remembering ( smarana ) which 
reaches the deeper recesses of the being of the devotee. The 
mind seeks to make conscious for itself that metaphysical 
presence of Bhagavan, which results from its original emanation 
from him. The transitory character of material objects becomes 
apparent and devotion is achieved. “Non-forgetfulness of the 
lotus feet of Krsna annihilates mischief and increases tranquility, 
purity of mind, devotion to the Highest Self, and knowledge 
coupled with wisdom and dispassion.” 43 

The Tantric practices of the second set of three practices of 
devotion reflect the reality of the manifestations of Bhagavan 
within the realm of primal nature ( prakrti ). Bhagavan is present 
in the image in a special manner and thus the material thing is 
worthy of worship: “One who is yoked by means of devotion 
with sincerity should worship me as his preceptor with the 
materials (dravya) of worship, in an image, prepared ground, the 
fire, the sun, water, the heart, or in a twice-born person.” 44 

The final three practices are built on the first six. Servitude 
or humility (dasya) is an interior attitude central to devotion. 46 
Friendship ( sakhya ) results when Bhagavan, sure of the devotee’s 
humility, allows him to feel the grace of God. God is not just 
his master but an intimate friend with whom the devotee feels 
familiar. Offering one’s self to Bhagavan or total surrender 

41. VII.4.39b : . . . udgayati kvacit // 

42. II. 1.11 : etannirvidyamananamicchatamakutobhayam/ yoginam 

nrpa nirnitam harernamanuklrtanam// 

43. XII.12.54 : avismrtih krsnapadaravindayoh ksinotyabhadrani samani 
tanoti ca/ sattvasya suddhim paramatmabhaktim jBanarp ca vijnanaviraga- 

44. XI.27.9 : arcayam sthandile’gnau va stirye vapsuhrdi dvije/dravyena 
bhaktiyukto’rcetsvagurum mamamayaya// 

45. Cf. VII.9.50. 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

Devotion : The Reality of Bhagavan 


(< atmanivedana ), which is the culmination of devotion, brings 
the devotee to union with Bhagavan: ‘‘When having renounced 
all activities a mortal dedicates himself (niveditatma) to me, he is 
chosen by me; attaining immortality, he is qualified to become 
one with me, sharing my divine powers .” 46 
Two additional practices which are forms of devotion and 
which overlap with and are associated with the ninefold practice 
of devotion may be treated here. The first is the repetition of the 
divine name ( namajapa ). The place of God’s name occupies an 
important place in the ninefold practice of devotion, but the 
Bhagavata also refers to namajapa in many other places. The 
name of God has an intrinsic glory and numinous power. In the 
story of Ajamila even the mere sound of God’s name is salvific. 
Ajamila is delivered from his sins by a single utterance of the 
sound ‘Narayana’, even though accidental. He intended, while 
lying on his death bed, to call his son who had that name to his 
side: “Just as medicine which is most powerful when consumed 
produces its effect, so muttering the name casually even when 
one is unaware produces its effect for the Self .” 47 
The name of God has such power that it awakens the ever- 
present Bhagavan. Its repetition in the Kali age is effective in 
bringing peace in the midst of sin and vice. There is no greater 
gain for those lost in the world of misery than the chanting of 
the divine names “from which one finds the highest tranquility 
and the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara) disappears .” 48 
The second practice is the worship of the preceptor {guru). 
For instance, Prabuddha tells King Nimi in the eleventh canto 
that someone who wants to know the highest good should resort 
to a preceptor who is versed in the Vedas and has realized the 
Highest Brahman and thus is free from attachment. “Under the 
guru whom one should regard as one’s own self one should learn 
the religious duty of a devotee, by service to the guru; so that 
Hari who is the self of the universe and confers self-realization, 

46. XI.29.34 : martyo yada tyaktasamastakarma niveditatma viciklrsito 
me/ tada’mrtatvam pratipadyamano mayatmabhuyaya ca kalpate vai// 

47. VI.2.19 : yatha’gadam viryatamamupayuktam yadrcchaya/ ajanato’- 
pyatmagunam kuryanmantro’pyudahrtah// 

48. XI.5.37 : nahyatah paramo labho dehinam bhramyatamiha / yato 
vindeta paramarn santirn nasyati samsrtih// 

becomes pleased with him .” 49 In this way the preceptor is the 
representative of the divine preceptor, Bhagavan Krsna. Krsna 
also himself acts as a preceptor in the eleventh canto when he 
teaches Uddhava the ways of devotion. In the tenth canto he 
gives a high place to the preceptor when he tells Sudama that 
he, ‘ the Self of all beings is not as pleased with sacrifices nor 
the investiture with the sacred, thread, penance, silence, etc. as 
he is with service to a preceptor... It is by the grace of the 
preceptor especially that a man is given peace and attains 
perfection. • j0 If it is thus with a human preceptor, how much 
more when one’s preceptor is Bhagavan Krsna himself. 

The ninefold practices of devotion with their associated 
customs aie centered at each stage on a personal God, who is 
progressively transformed from an impersonal Brahman into 
the Supreme Person, Bhagavan. The Divine is always within the 
devotee awaiting an awakening. The ninefold devotion is a pre- 
requisite as a means, though subject to the grace of Bhagavan, 
to the bestowal of the end of devotion which is Bhagavan him- 

Yoga and Knowledge 

The Bhagavad Gita uses the term yoga to denote a spiritual 
path or discipline. jl It uses the prefixes karma, jhana, and bhakti 
to indicate different paths. However, Patanjali systematized yoga 
as a specific technique in its own right which severs the indi- 
vidual spirit ( purusa ) from any connection with the twenty-four 
categories (tattva). The Bhagavata draws on both tradition, 
mixes them, and at times keeps them separate from its treat- 
ment of devotion. As an inclusive Purana, the Bhagavata neg- 
lects, though at some cost to consistency, no part of Vaisnava 
wisdom. Devotion is at times practically assimilated to the way 
of knowledge (jhana) and/or to Yoga, but in the end the 

49. XI.3.22 : tatra bhagavatandharman siksedgurvatmadaivatah amaya- 
yanuvrttya yaistusyedatmaimado harih// 

50. X. 80. 34,43b : nahamijyaprajatibhyam tapasopasamena va/ tusyeyam 

sarvabhutatma gurususrusaya yatha//...guroranugrahenaiva pumanpurnah 
prasantaye// ' ' 

51. Cf. Bhagavad Gita III. 3. 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhdgavata Putina 

Devotion : The Reality of Bhagavtin 


Bhagavata distinguishes devotion from them and establishes the 
superiority of devotion over the other disciplines of salvation 
(, stidhana ). 

In many passages the Bhtigavata postulates the need to con- 
trol the senses as a propaedeutic to devotion to Bhagavan. In 
canto three Kapila speaks of the entrapment of the individual 
spirit {purusa) within the qualities of primal nature ( prakrti ), 
which results in egoism and attachment to action and the 
world of the creative energy. The egoism and attachment are 
not real but illusory. Thus he prescribes devotion as a means 
to free the devotee from these evils. ‘‘Therefore gradually 
through the discipline of devotion ( bhaktiyoga ) and through 
intense non-attachment ( viralcti ) one should bring under control 
the mind which is attached to the path of sensual enjoyment .” 62 
Thus through devotion a man becomes a yogin and performs 
all the practices of Yoga. He becomes even-minded and un- 
attached and realizes the Self. One who is controlled by his 
senses and their gratification cannot follow the path of devo- 
tion until they are brought under control. The path of yoga, 
which is here just barely distinguished from the yoga of devo- 
tion, is reminiscent of Patanjali’s eightfold Yoga. The highest 
goal of this exercise is the realization of non-dual Brahman . 63 
The devotee finds that his true self is the Self and that the eight- 
fold Yoga removes the obstacles to that realization. 

This yoga is called by Sridhara vaimavayoga, and is treated 
in detail in chapters twenty-eight and twenty-nine of canto 
three where Kapila teaches his mother about “the character of 
Yoga, which has some object to subsist on ( sabija ), by practic- 
ing which the mind becomes tranquil and pure and attains the 
path of truth .” 61 In order to dissolve the twenty-four categories, 
one applies external restraint ( yama ) and internal control 
( niyama ). 66 This kind of yoga is sabija, that is, its goal is a deep 

52. III. 27. 5 : ata eva sanaiscittam prasaktamasatarp path! bhaktiyogena 
tivrena viraktya ca nayedvasam// 

53. Cf. 

54. III. 28.1 : yogasya laksaiiani vaksye sabijasya nrpatmaje/ mano 
yenaiva vidhina prasannam yati satpatham// 

55. Cf. IH.28.2-5a and XI.19.33-34. 

meditation ( samadhi ) with an object. Its meditation leaves be- 
hind the unreal sense world and centers on the real object, 
Bhagavan. A deep meditation without an object ( nirbija ), 
contentless concentration, however, is the goal of Vaisnava 
Yoga: “Just as aflame is extinguished, the mind immediately 
obtains extinction ( nirvtina ), when it is indifferent, detached 
from sense objects, and freed from its support; the spirit 
( purusa ) then experiences the Self as one, without the 
distinctions of subject and object and free from the flow of the 
qualities .” 66 The person is free from sorrow and distress. He, 
“having established himself in this glory, which is beyond 
pleasure and pain, by means of this last restraint of the mind, 
realizes the essential nature of the Self and transfers the agency 
of the pleasure and pain from himself to ahamkara, which is 
not ultimately real .” 57 Thus there is a complete surrender of the 
true interior self, stripped of its mental accretions, to Brahman 
and a realization of their unity. In this way the practice of 
Yoga is put to a Vedantic purpose. 

In chapter twenty-nine of the third canto, the Bhagavata 
states that “the yoga of devotion and Yoga have been described 
by me; by either of these two the individual spirit ( purusa ) can 
attain the Person ( purusa ).” 58 Subsequently there is a similar 
affirmation in chapter thirty-two : “The yoga of knowledge and 
the yoga characterized devotion which is without qualities 
directed to me both have the same goal, which is signified by 
the word ‘Bhagavan .’” 59 Thus Yoga and the yoga of devotion, 
and the yoga of knowledge and devotion, lead to the same goal, 
though each path influences how that goal is perceived, whether 

56. III. 28. 35 : muktasrayam yarhi nirvisayam viraktam nirvanamrcchati 
manah sahasa yatha’rcih/atmanamatra puruso vyavadhanamekamaaviksate 

57. III. 28. 36 : so’pyetaya caramaya manaso nivi ttya tasminmahimnya- 
vasitah sukhaduhkhabahye/ hetutvamapyasati kartari duhkhayoryatsvat- 
manvidhatta upalabdhaparatmakasthah// 

58. III.29.35 : bhaktiyogasca yogasca maya manavyudiritah/ yayore- 
katarenaiva purusah purusam vrajet// 

59. III. 32.32 : jnanayogasca mannistho nairgunyo bhaktilaksanah/ 
dvayorapyeka evartho bhagavacchabdataksanah// 

88 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Put ana 

as Brahman, the Highest Self, or Bhagavan. The latter text 
suggests that Bhagavan is the primary identity of this goal, 
though subject to a more impersonal perception or realization 
iu Yoga and the path of knowledge Also it seems that even 
devotion, when considered in close conjunction with these 
paths, assimilates their characteristics so that Bhagavan be- 
comes tinged with the impersonal overtones of Brahman. As 
S. Bhattacarya remarks: “The jhana yoga of the Bhagavata 
forges a remarkable compromise between Patanjali and the 
Upanisads...” 60 

In canto eleven the Bhagavata associates each of the three 
yogas of the Bhagavad Gita with a different type of person. The 
discipline of knowledge is suitable for those who find no use in 
ritual action, while the discipline of action is effective for those 
who still find the ritual actions helpful. But “the yoga of devo- 
tion is conducive to liberation for the person in whom by good 
fortune has sprouted a faith in my stories, etc. and who is 
neither disgusted with nor deeply attached to the performance 
of acts.” 61 Here devotion is more clearly distinguished from the 
paths of knowledge and of action, and by extension from the 
eightfold Yoga, than in the previous passages. Devotion steers a 
middle course between indulgence in and attachment to the 
realm of the senses. In this way the Bhagavata gives a positive 
value to this world so that “heavenly beings and demons desire 
to be born in this world, which leads to liberation by both know- 
ledge and devotion, which is not possible in their world.” 62 The 
devotee neither flees the world nor seeks its rewards. The impli- 
cation is that he will need to use his senses, properly of course, 
in the various practices of devotion. 

When the Bhagavata presents the discipline of devotion as a 
mosaic of devotion, detachment and knowledge, it would seem 
to be carefully delimiting the scope of the discipline of devotion. 

60. Bhattacarya, The Philosophy of the Sr imad- Bhagavata, II, 106. 

61. XI. 20. 8 : yadrcchaya satkathadau jatasraddhastu yah puman / na 
nirvinno nastisakto bhaktiyogo’sya siddhidah// 

62. XI. 20.12: svargino’pyetamicchanti lokani nirayinastatha/ sadhakam 
jnanabhaktibhyamubhayam tadasadhakam/'/ 

Devotion : The Reality of Bhagavan 89 

It is as if it feared to envisage devotion as a feeling ( anubhdva ) 
or as love {preman). If devotion is attachment to Bhagavan, the 
detachment from all that distracts from that attachment is neces- 
sary. One must also know the object of attachment. Thus the 
organic association of devotion with datachment and knowl- 
edge is proposed for the discipline of devotion {bhaktiyoga). As 
Kapila says in canto three: “The person with his self joined to 
knowledge, non-attachment and devotion, realizes his self to be 
absolute, distinct from and beyond primal nature, immutable, self- 
luminous, atomic, indivisible, passive, and finds primal nature 
powerless.” 63 Knowledge and detachment, in fact, need devotion 
to get beyond the sphere of primal nature {prakrti). Canto twelve 
in a passage near the end of the Purana says that “in this 
Parana has been considered withdrawal from and cessation of all 
actions accompanied by knowledge, renunciation, and devotion; 
the one who listens to it, reads it constantly, and considers it 
with devotion is liberated.” 61 These three disciplines or paths 
allow the Bhagavata to close the gap between the devotee and 
the object of his devotion. 

However, the Bhagavata is not content to limit devotion to 
the elitist confines of asceticism with its complicated and difficult 
Yoga nor to the Brahmanic exclusiveness of the path of knowl- 
edge. Devotion is sufficient. Krsna tells Uddhava in canto eleven 
that the yogin who is yoked to him by means of devotion has no 
need of knowledge nor detachment. All that is gained from 
knowledge, detachmeut, and Yoga “the person who is devoted 
to me quickly attains by means of the discipline of devotion to 
me whether it be heaven, beatitude, or my abode.” 65 This way 
of devotion is special because it has been revealed by 
Krsna. 66 Just as devotion puts a new light on action since 
it is the interior attitude that counts, so knowledge is given 
a new significance. As S. Bhattacarya comments: “If the 
goal of the Upanisadic knowledge is the dissolution of the 

63. III. 25. 17-18 : tada purusa atmanam kevalam prakrtelj param/ 
nirantaram svayarnjyotiranimanamakhanditam// jnanavairagyayuktena 
bhaktiyuktena catmana / paripasyatyudasinarn prakrtim ca hataujasam// 

64. X11.13.18b : tatra jnanaviragabhaktisahitam naiskarmyamaviskitam 
tacchinvanvipathanvicaranaparo bhaktya vimucyennarah// 

65. XI. 20.33 : sarvam madbhaktiyogena madbhakto labhate’njasa/ 
svargapavargam maddhama kathamcidyadi vanchati II 

66. Cf. XI. 20. 37. 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

effect. Devotion is a discipline which leads to a permanent state, 
devotion. Prabuddha says to King Nimi that “remembering and 
reminding each other of Hari who destroys falsehood in a mo- 
ment, their devotion (means) turns into devotion (goal), the 
hair of their bodies stands up from joy.” 73 Devotion helps the 
devotee cross over the creative energy of Bhagavan and leave 
behind an existence contaminated by the three qualities for a 
way of existence which transcends the production of the indivi- 
dual without at the same time negating his individuality. 


We have seen in Chapter I that liberation ( mukti ) is one of 
the characteristics or topics of a Purana . 74 It is defined in canto 
two as “the abandoning of the unreal form, and staying in his 
essential nature.” 75 The individual self’s connection with a body 
is an assumed form which acts in and is bound to the world. 
At liberation this is left behind. The proper form is the realiza- 
tion of oneness with Bhagavan. A similar description of libera- 
tion is given in canto three: “When he sees himself freed from 
the influence of the elements, senses, the qualities, and the mind, 
when he abides in me by my own form, then he enjoys self- 
mastery. 76 Here liberation is considered as the dissolution of 
the Samkhya categories back to their original latent state. 

Thus it seems that the Bhagavata has several versions of what 
the final goal of human beings is. One version describes the 
apparently impersonal absorption into the Absolute. Another 
version describes service at the lotus feet of Bhagavan, or loving 
devotion, as the goal. In the first case, however, it must be rem- 
embered that the individual self eternally exists or subsists with 
Brahman in an elusive subtle state, even in the most radical 
state of dissolution. At the same time, even in the second des- 
cription, it is not a heaven, which is described here as the goal 
of devotion, but a state of being. 

73. XI. 3. 31 : smarantah smarayantasca mitho’ghaughaharam harim/ 
bhaktya samjataya bhaktya bibhratyutpulakam tanum// 

74. Cf. II. 10.1 and XII.7.9-10. 

75. II. 10.6b : muktirhitvanyatharupam svarupena vyavasthitih// 

76. III. 9. 33 : yada rahitamatmanani bhutendriyagunasayaih/ svarupena 
mayopetarn pasyansvarajyamrcchati// 

Deovtion : The Reality of Bhagavan 


The Bhagavata, indeed, is much clearer about what is not 
the goal or salvation of human beings than what is. It rejects 
five traditional kinds of beatitude as undesirable. In canto three 
Kapila says that these kinds of beatitude do not attract the 
devotee once he has set his eyes on the goal of devotion, which 
is beyond the qualities of primal nature. 77 The state which is 
finally attained is beyond the qualities; the five states which are 
rejected are within the sphere of the qualities. They do not take 
the seeker beyond the qualities. They are incomplete dissolutions 
of the phenomenal self with its physical appurtenances. The five 
rejected states are : (1) residence in the Vaikuntha heaven with 
Bhagavan ( sdlokya ), (2) the possession of divine powers (sarsti), 
(3) living in Bhagavan’s presence ( sdmipya ), (4) the possession 
of the divine form ( sarupya ), and (5) absorption into his being 
( ekatva ). The latter in this context must mean an absorption 
compatible with remaining within the sphere of the qualities. 
None of these states of beatitude can compare with the simple 
state of devotion, which is a state of union (left finally unexplain- 
ed, though beyond the qualities) with Bhagavan : “That only 
is called the final discipline of devotion by which one overcomes 
the three qualities and attains my state.” 78 In canto nine each of 
these types of beatitude is contained within devotion: “Fully 
satisfied by service to me, they do not desire the four types (of 
beatitude), such as residence, etc. which are attained by service to 
me. How could they desire these other things which are ravaged 
by time?” 79 Here the states of beatitude are attained unwittingly 
by the devotee. They are supererogatory. Instead of being 
explained as subject to the qualities, they are described as sub- 
ject to time. The states always involve, even in their highest 
degree, some form of death and rebirth. To the extent that they 
are not final these states of beatitude are actually states of 

77. Cf. III. 29.13-14. 

78. III. 29. 14 : sa eva bhaktiyogakhya atyantika udahrtah/ yenativrajya 
trigunam madbhavayopapadyate// 

79. IX.4.67 : matsevaya pratltam ca salokyadicatustayam,/ necchanti 
sevaya purnab kuto’nyatkalavidrutam//. Only four states are mentioned here 
probably sarsti is omitted. 

94 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

The states of beatitude do however have a medicinal function. 
Krsna says in the eleventh canto that the promise of reward in 
these states is “introductory to beatitude just as a remedy (for 
the stomach) lead to an appetite.” 80 Each type of beatitude is 
thus a new phase of emancipation, which must be deepened, 
lest it become a bondage and lead to death and rebirth. 

Without describing this final state of devotion except to say 
that it is blissful, the Bhagavata says that it takes the devotee 
out of the cycle of death and rebirth ( samsara ). Death and rebirth 
are then extinguished. The devotee “never returns in any 
way to the cycle of death and rebirth like the others; he 
remembers the embracing of Mukunda’s feet, and attrac- 
ted to that pleasure, he does not want to lose it.” 81 Mukunda, 
the epithet of Bhagavan, means bestower of liberation. Once 
Bhagavan has made himself known, the devotee will never 
abandon him; having reached the final goal, which is union 
with Bhagavan himself, there is no way inetaphsically to return 
to samsara . 82 

However, the Bhagavata, in some passages, separates itself 
even from this doctrine of the liberation through devotion from 
the cycle of death and rebirth. 83 The devotee might be tempted 
to seek this liberation and therefore vitiate the purity of his 
devotion to Bhagavan. Devotion must always be disinterested. 
As Krsna says in canto eleven: “He who has been devoted 
to me no more desires the position of the highest, the realm 
of the great Indra, power over the universe, rulership of the 
underworlds, yogic powers, the state of not being reborn, nothing 
apart from me.” 84 Free from expectation, the devotee will get 
everything from Bhagavan. Bhagavan is even under an obligation 
of sorts to the devotee since the devotee provides Bhagavan 

80. XI.21.23b : sreyovivaksaya proktam yatha bhaisajyarocanam// 

81. 1.5.19: na vai jano jatu kathamcanavrajenmukundasevyanyavadanga 
samsrtim/ smaranmukundamghryupaguhanam punarvihatumicchenna rasa- 
graho yatah // 

82. Cf. III. 25.39-41, 43-44. 

83. Cf. VI. 3. 22 and VII.7.55. 

84. XI. 14. 14 : na paramesthyarn na mahendradhisnyam na sarvabhau- 
mam na rasadhipatyam/ na yogasidturapunarbhavarp va mayyarpitatmecchaii 

Devotion : The Reality of Bhagavan 95 

with the opportunity to bestow a participation in his perfect 

What unites all these passages, regardless of terminological 
nuance and diversity, is the Bhagavata ' s unrelenting non-dualism. 
Devotion and/or the disciplines of knowledge, Yoga, and detach- 
ment, or devotion alone, are grounded in the inclusive unity 
of Bhagavan. While championing the path of devotion, the 
Bhagavata makes a place for Yoga and the paths of knowledge 
and datachment, since they lead to Bhagavan. 85 It has gone over 
backward in accommodating the vision of a Brahman without 
qualities which arises from the path of knowledge and from some 
forms of devotion. Yet the Bhagavata qualifies this stark vision. 
Through all these paths, the seekers “attain Bhagavan by these 
both as ‘without qualities’ and ‘with qualities.’ ” 86 Both descrip- 
tions are non-dualist, but the Bhagavata favors the latter because 
on account of its commitment to devotion it cannot renounce 
the non-dual Bhaga van’s evolution of the qualities, etc. from 

Bondage comes from duality, which is always the illusion of 
separateness from Bhagavan. Mastery of the individual self’s 
illusions through devotion overcomes this sense of duality, which 
can only be a ‘sense’ of duality: “Until by means of self-realiz- 
ation one determines that this is illusion, there will continue that 
duality which follows from the mistake about this.” 87 Perhaps 
some without postulating a metaphysical unity may consider 
liberation as a moral attainment of unity. But this is not the way 
of the Bhagavata for which the experience of unity with Bhagavan 
is not possible without the reality of actual unity with him. 
Because the devotee comes from Bhagavan, never ceases to be 
from Bhagavan, is always ruled from within by Bhagavan, he 
can return to Bhagavan from whom he is never really, only 
illusorily, separated. The separation is real for the devotee but 
not for Bhagavan. The Bhagavata is willing, as we have seen 
above, to forego the feeling or the experience of unity with 
Bhagavan, if that experience itself would hinder the reality of 

85. Cf. III. 32. 32. 

86. III.32.36b : lyate bhagavanebhih saguno nirgunah svadrk// 

87. VII. 12.10 : kalpayitvatmana yavadabhasamidamisvarah/ dvaitarp 
tavanna viramettato hyasya viparyayah./ 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

unity. Illusion, attachment, and the experience of unity may 
hinder the reality of unity. 

The type of devotion which is built on or accommodated to 
knowledge, Yoga, and detachment, reenforces the experience of 
non-duality. This devotion edges toward an experience and 
postulation of Brahman without qualities. It is tempted to fore- 
go the personal Bhagavan with qualities. Yet the Bhdgavata’s 
redactor was a member of a group of forward looking Brahmans 
who were experiencing the fire and ardor of a new form of 
devotion. In its discursive passages the Bhagavata is conserva- 
tive; the devotion it teaches looks back to the Bhugavad Gita 
and to Yoga. Yet in its rich narratives, the redactor reveals a new 
vision of an emotional devotion which raises Bhagavan Krsna’s 
dalliance with the cowherd girls of Vrndavana as a paradigm. 
This ecstatic devotion will be treated in the next chapter. 

Chapter VI 


The Alvars 

Along with the type ot devotion associated with knowledge 
and detachment, which is derived from the Bhagavad Gita, 
there is in the Bhagavata the emotional and ecstatic devotion 
which at the time it was written was chiefly associated with the 
Vaisnavas of South India . 1 This type of devotion makes a con- 
scious use of erotic love-symbolism, which had little place in 
the religious tradition based on the Vedas and the Upanisads. 
Devotion as mystical love between the devotee and God arose in 
the Tamil country about the sixth century among both Saiva 
and Vaisnava devotees. Against elitist Buddhism and Jainism, 
which had been prominent in South India, and probably also 
against the Brahmanic ritualism filtering in from the north, 
South India developed an intense devotion to Siva and to Visnu 
in his Ki sria form. This devotion had a mass appeal for those of 
low caste and for those who could not, or would not, sever 
their relations with the ordinary world, and thus devotion filled 
a religious vacuum. As G. Yocum asserts: 

But while the political situation may have played a part in 
the rise of bhakti, basically the Tamil bhakti movement, in 
view of the other religions’ irrelevence to the life of the 
common man, was an attempt to find a form of religious ex- 
pression and practice within the context of both indigenous 

1. See Friedhelm Hardy, Viraha Bhakti : The Early History of Krstia 
Devotion in South India (Delhi : Oxford University, 1983). 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhdgavata Purana 

Devotion : The Reality of the Devotee 


ideas and pan-Indian traditions which would be meaningful 
to a wide range of people at a fairly deep level. 2 

The Tamil Vaisnava saints, the Alvars, made a special use 
of the language of the love and sexual feeling between a man 
and a woman to portray the experience which they had with 
God. The union, separation, and abandonment of lovers suggest 
the power and poignancy of the saints’ devotion to God. For 
example, in this poem by Nammalvar, one of the greatest of the 
Alvars, the imagery of the separation of lovers symbolizes his 
agony in being separated from God: 

Evening has come, He has not. 

And the kine are wriggling in content. 

For the bulls, bells jingling, 

Have mated with them. 

The cruel flutes are prating. 

Within the bright, bright jasmine buds. 

And the blue lily 

The bee is fluttering and dancing. 

The sea breaks open, leaping up to the sky and 
cries and cries. 

What is it that I can say? 

How can I escape and save myself, 

Here, without Him? 3 

The devotees go beyond the imagery and allegory of erotic 
poetry, which had deep roots in Tamil culture. Their devotion, 
their active experience of Bhagavan, as we shall see in the 
Bhdgavata, was deeply personal and, at times, sexual. These ex- 
periences are in conflict with a strong ethical tradition, and they 
are of such power that the devotees sublimate their experiences 
by means of allegorical interpretations. 

Ch. Vaudeville suggests that there was an early influence on 
South Indian religion and culture from the Sufis, which “cannot 

2. Glenn Yocum, “Shrines, Shamanism, and Love Poetry : Elements in 
the Emergence of Popular Tamil Bhakti,” Journal of the American Academy 
of Religion, XLI (March 1973), 4. 

3. Ibid. , p. 15. 

be ruled out chronologically, whilst geographical and historical 
circumstances give it some amount of probability.” 4 The intense 
Tamil theism, whether Saiva or Vaisnava, would at this early 
date, seventh or eighth century, have been inclined to see Islamic 
monotheism, especially in its mystical form, as an ally, rather 
than as a rival. The Sufis stressed the irreversible love-relation- 
ship between God and the human soul, and the need for abso- 
lute self-surrender and intense longing on the part of the be- 
liever. For example, the Sufi Zaid says in one of his sermons: 
“O Brothers, will you not weep with desire for God? He who 
weeps with desire for his Lord, how could he be deprived of his 
vision?” 6 

Among the Vaisnava traditions being brought in from the 
north of India were those of the Harivamsa and the Visnu 
Purana concerning the life and loves of Krsna Vasudeva. The 
Alvars make abundant use of these romantic exploits especi- 
ally those illustrating the themes of the bliss of union and of the 
fear of separation, bringing them to the greatest development 
prior to the Bhdgavata. The tension between these two, the 
proximity to and the distance from Bhagavan, is the root of the 
Alvars’ devotion and led them to prefer the perfection of devo- 
tion to the final emancipation of the path of knowledge. Thus in 
the context of Tamil devotion, a group of ascetical devotees 
composed or redacted the Bhdgavata Purana in Sanskrit, in- 
fusing the dynamic elements of emotional and ecstatic devotion 
into the inherited matrix of the quiet, peaceful devotion stemm- 
ing from the Bhagavad Gita. 

4. Ch. Vaudeville, “Evolution of Love-Symbolism in Bhagavatism,” 
Journal of the American Oriental Society, LXXXII (March 1962), 35. That 
there was a Christian influence on the development of bhakti and of the 
Krsna legends has been widely suggested, yet there is no conclusive evidence. 
Some exaggerated claims (by William Jones, B. Seal, R. G. Bhandarkar, 
N. Macnicol and others) have been refuted by Hemchandra Raychaudhuri, 
Materials for the Study of the Early' History of the Vaishnava Sect (New 
Delhi : Oriental Books Reprint Corporation, 1975). Of course, Christianity 
would have had an indirect influence, through Islam, if Vaudeville’s sugges- 
tion is correct. 

5. Ibid., p. 36. 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

Devotion : The Reality of the Devotee 


Ecstatic Devotion 

The Bhagavata often describes devotion in terms of intoxication 
and ecstasy. In canto one Narada tells how his mission began 
in an intense devotional experience. In an uninhabited forest 
Narada sat in the shelter of a Peepul tree and contemplated 
within his heart all that he had heard about the Self who was 
supposed to reside within the individual self. As he meditated, 
“with my mind overpowered with affection and tears flowing 
from my eyes from longing, Hari gradually appeared in my 
heart.” He was overwhelmed with happiness and “transfixed 
with love ( preman ) and absorbed in an ocean of bliss .” 6 He 
could see neither himself nor the Lord. Disturbed by the dis- 
appearance of Hari, he tried again to concentrate his mind but 
could not regain the vision. Unsatisfied, he was deeply disturbed. 
In Narada’s intense emotional experience he was over- 
powered by love {preman). Preman expresses ‘‘the ardent 
tenderness and fondness especially between two lovers .” 7 Thus 
Narada had felt love for Bhagavan, but then felt the pangs of 
the withdrawal of this beautiful form of his beloved. This deso- 
lation of being separated from one’s lover purifies, as Hari 
tells Narada: “O virtuous one, this form has been revealed only 
once to arouse desire in you. The devotee gradually gives up all 
that resides in his heart .” 8 Thus here the devotional experience 
has had the same result as a process of Yoga, the giving up of 
all that is unnecessary in the heart. 

The ecstasy and love described are but one exceptional phase 
in the life of Narada who was an ascetic, yogin, and devotee. 
He is still a representative of the Bhagavata' s conservative strand 
of devotion. Prahlada is an unambiguous example of the new 
type of devotee. In canto seven his story is told. Aside from the 
cowherd girls in canto ten, Prahlada is one of the foremost of 
the devotees, a mahabliagavata . 9 He learned about devotion 

6. I.6.17-18a: dhyayatascaranambhojam bhavanirjitacetasa/ autkanth- 
yasrukalaksasya hrdyasinme sanairharilj// prematibharanirbhinnapulakahgo’ 

7. Vaudeville, “Evolution of Love-Symbolism in Bhagavatism,” p. 39. 

8. 1.6.23 : sakrdyaddarsitam rupametatkamaya te’nagha/matkamah 
sanakaih sadhuh sarvanmuncati hrcchayan // 

9. Cf. V 11.7.10a: 

while a fetus in his mother’s womb, when Narada was teaching 
her. She forget the teaching but Prahlada remembered. As a boy 
of five he taught devotion to his childhood companions. 
His devotion is an inward contemplation of Visnu, but it also 
takes vivid, ecstatic expression outwardly: “Having as a child 
put aside his playthings, his mind absorbed in Krsna, he 
appeared like a dunce. His self was possessed by Krsna, as 
though by a spirit, he did not know the ordinary world .” 10 
He was never conscious of the things he was doing, so deep 
was his attention centered on Krsria. “Now he would cry, 
his mind seized by the thought of Vaikuntha, now he would 
laugh, delighting in thought of him, now he would sing aloud, 
now he would shriek with open throat, now dance banishing all 
bashfulness, blushing, imagining himself to be one with him and 
merged in him, he would imitate him .” 11 Then he would sit 
quietly, happy and full of the tears of bliss brought by constant 

In canto eleven a similar devotee is described by Kavi, the 
sage: “The man who has vowed such conduct develops love for 
him by singing the names of his beloved, his heart melting in 
devotion, loudly laughing and weeping, screaming, singing, 
dancing like one possessed, flaunting the world .” 12 So intense is 
his mad devotion, he bows to all in sight, thinking them to be 
forms of Bhagavan. “At one time these three appear together, 
devotion, realization of the Highest Lord, and aversion to other 
things, in him who has resigned himself to the Lord, just as one 
who eats is satisfied, is nourished, and gets relief from hunger 
with each morsel .” 13 The devotee thus extends his love and 
reverence for Hari to all his creatures, who are the body (sarira) 

10. VII. 4.37 : nyastakridanako balo jadavattanmanastaya/ krsnagraha- 
grhitatma na veda jagadidrsam,/ 

11. VII. 4. 39-40 : kvacidrudati vaikunthacintasabalacetanah/ kvaciddha- 
sati taccintahlada udgayati lcvacit // nadati kvacidutkantho vilajjo nrtyati 
kvacit / kvacittadbhavanayuktastanmayo’nucakara ha// 

12. XI. 2. 40 : evamvratah svapriyanamakirtya jatanurago drutacitta 
uccaih/ hasatyatho roditi rauti gayatyunmadavannrtyati iokabahyah// 

13. XI. 2.42 : bhaktih paresanubhavo viraktiranyatra caisa trika eka- 
kalah/ prapadyamanasya yatha’snatah syustustih pustih ksudapayo’- 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

Devotion : The Reality of the Devotee 


of Bhagavan. Emotional devotion is rooted in an experience of 
the nonduality of all things in Bhagavan, just as the conservative 
devotion is. Devotion as a goal is also equated with realization 
of the Supreme Lord. 

These passages bring to mind the Bhakti Sutras of Narada, 
which are probably contemporary with, though not dependent 
upon, the Bhagavata. The Sutras are in the tradition of emotional 
devotion. For instance, Narada defines devotion: “This, indeed, 
has the form of supreme love for him.” 14 The word ‘form’ 
suggests that ‘love’ is here used analogously. Yet the devotion 
is emotional: “Knowing this love, a human is intoxicated, 
fixated, delighting in the Self. This love is not lust ( kama ), 
since it is essentially a renunciation.” 16 This is consistent with 
what we have seen in the Bhagavata where devotion is closely 
associated in many passages with knowledge and forms of 
ascesis. Further devotion is a form of detachment ( nirodha ) : 
“But Narada holds that it is the dedication of every action to 
God and extreme anguish at forgetting him.” 18 
Finally the Sutras state : “There have been examples of this 
kind of love, namely, the cowherd girls of Vraja.” 17 These girls 
are also the devotees par excellence for the Bhagavata and 
its most significant example of the use of erotic love-symbolism. 

The Ecstatic Play ( rasalila ) 

Canto ten recounts the biography of Krsna, whose main 
mission is to rid the country of the tyrant demon Kamsa, who 
has usurped the throne of Mathura from Krsna’s grandfather, 
Ugrasena. At his birth Krsna, in order to escape Kamsa’ s wrath, 
is brought after several miraculous interventions to Vraja and 
raised by his foster parents, Nanda and Yasoda. The prince is 

14. Aphorisms on the Gospel of Divine Love or Narada Bhakti Sutras, 
translated by Swam! Tyagisananda (Myiapore, Madras: Sri Rama- 
krishna Math, 1972), p. 1, sutra 2: sa tvasmin parapremarupa/ 

15. Ibid., p. 3, sutras 6-7 : yatjnatva matto bhavati stabdho bhavati 
atmaramo bhavati/ sa na kamayamana nirodharupatvat/ 

16. Ibid., p. 7, sutra 19 : naradastu tadarpitakhilacarata tadvismarane 

17. Ibid., sutras 20-21 : astyevamevam/ yatha vrajagopikanam/ 

brought among cowherds, who came to love him more than 
their own children. After many miraculous exploits, when Krsna 
was twelve, the ecstatic play ( rasalila ) takes place (X. 29-33). The 
young cowherd girls of the town ( gopi ) had all fallen in love 
and became infatuated with the beautiful and youthful Krsna. 
They take a vow and adore the goddess Katyayani with the 
prayer: “O goddess Katyayani, the great creative energy ( may a ), 
great yogini, Supreme Ruler, praise to you, make the son of 
Nanda the cowherd, O goddess, my husband.” 18 Each cow- 
herd girl said this prayer and worshipped her. Their prayer is 
answered and Krsna agrees to meet them on a night in autumn. 

On a bright autumnal night, when the moon was full, Krsna 
began to play melodies on his flute. All the cowherd girls are 
enraptured by its beautiful sound and flock to the woods out- 
side of Vrndavana to find their beloved Krsna. They dropped 
what they were doing, milking cows, cooking, serving their 
husbands, etc. “Being stopped by husbands, fathers, brothers, 
and relatives, with their minds lured and deluded by Govinda, 
they did not turn back.” 19 Some of the cowherd girls were un- 
able to get away. These practiced the devotion of separation. 
“By means of the unbearable and intense separation from their 
beloved their sins were shaken off and the beatitude of embrac- 
ing Acyuta was achieved in contemplation.” 20 These women 
were thus loosed from the bonds' of their inherited destiny 
{karma) and freed from their bodies at that moment, even 
though “they recognized the Highest Self only as a paramour.” 21 
These women were unaware that Krsna was Bhagavan or 
Brahman. They knew him only as an irresistible but illicit lover. 

18. X.22.4 : katyayani mahamaye mahayoginyadhisvari/ nandagopasu- 
tam devi patim me kuru te namah / 

19. X.29.8 : tavaryamanahpatibhihpitrbhirbhratrbaudhubhih/ govinda- 
pahrtatmano na nyavartanta mohitah // Cf. llarivamsa LXIII.24: ta varya- 
manah pitrbhir bhratrbhir matrbhis tatha/ krsriam gopangana ratrau 
mrgayanti ratipriyafi// “Though prevented by their fathers and brothers 
and mothers, as well, the women of the Gopas, intent on making love, 
searched for Krsna : in the dead of night.’’ Translated by J. L. Masson, 
"The Childhood of Kr?na: Some Psychoanalytic Observations,” Journal 
of the Oriental Society, XCIV (1974), 458. 

20. X.29.10 : duhsahapresthavirahativratapadhutasubhah/ dhyanaprap- 
tacyutaslesanirvrtya ksinamangalah// 

21. X.29.11a : tameva paramatmanam jarabuddhyapi samgatah/ 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhdgavata Purana 

As the girls gather around him, Krsna asks those who were 
able to come what it is they want and suggests that they return 
to their husbands, children and families since adultery is un- 
virtuous. Besides, as Krsna cautions, “affection is from hearing, 
seeing, meditating, and singing, not from proximity, so return 
home .” 22 Here Krsna tells them to follow the ordinary ways of 
devotion. The cowherd girls, however, are saddened that per- 
haps Krsna has no love for them. They plead with him: “As 
you, the knower of the religious law ( dharma ), have said, the 
natural duty of women is to give service to their husband, 
children, and relatives, O beloved one; let such service be done 
for you, the Lord, the theme of all teachings, the beloved friend, 
the Self of all embodied beings .” 23 They want to substitute 
Krsna for their husbands, bypassing the moral law by an 
appeal to the maker of the law. “Extinguish with the flood of 
nectar from your lips the fire of passion kindled by your smiles, 
glances, and music ; if not, with our bodies consumed by the 
fire of separation by meditation, we shall attain to the position 
of your feet .” 24 

Krsna out of compassion consents to their wishes. The group 
proceeds to frolic on the banks of the Yamuna River, singing 
songs and playing, though hardly innocently: “Inflaming the 
passion of the charming women of Vraja by stretching his arms, 
embracing them, touching their hands, hair, thighs, waists, 
breasts, joking with them, and pressing his nails into their skin, 
with sportful glances and smiles, the Lord of love gave them 
sexual delight .” 25 Yet the cowherd women grew conceited from 

22. X. 29.27: sravanaddarsanaddhyananmayi bhavo’nukirtanat,/ na tatha 
sarnnikarsena pratiyata tato grhan// 

23. X.29.32 : yatpatyapatyasuhrdamanuvrttirahga strinam svadharma 
iti dharmavida tvayoktam/ astvevametadupadesapade tvaylse presfho 
bhavamstanubhrtam kila bandhuratma// 

24. X.29.35 : sincanga nastvadadharamrtapurakena hasavaiokakala- 
gitajahrcchayagnim/ no cedvayam virahajagnyupayuktadeha dhyanena yama 
padayoh padavim sakhe te// 

25. X.29.46 : bahuprasaraparirambhakaralakorunlvistanalabhananarm- 
tim ramayamcakara// Cf. Harivamsa LXVII.23 : tas tam payodharottanair 
urobhih samapidayan/ bhramitaksais ca vadanair nirlksante varanganah// 
“The girls pressed up close against him with their high firm breasts and 
their thighs, and with their whole face, the eyes rolling in ecstasy, they 
gazed at him.” 

Devotion : The Reality of the Devotee 


their association with the passionate Krsna. Therefore he dis- 
appeared from their midst in order to curb their pride and to 
provide a further occasion to shower grace upon them. 

The cowherd women experienced all the agonies of separation 
from their beloved. Their response was to recall his presence. 
They imitate his gestures, sing his praises, and anxiously search 
for him. They remember and act of each of his exploits. Find- 
ing Krsna’s footsteps in his forest, they are hurt to discover 
that Krsna has a companion in his flight: “Though delighting 
within his Self and sporting within his Self and unaffected, he 
.sported with her, illustrating the wretchedness of the lovestricken 
and the wickedness of women .” 26 The chosen cowherd girl in her 
turn becomes proud because of her exclusive possession of 
Krsna, so he disappears from her too. All the cowherd girls now 
wander in the forest together. Not finding. Krsna, they sing his 
praises: “Give us, O heroic Lord, the nectar of your lips which 
increases enjoyment and destroys grief, which was fully enjoyed 
by the flute you sounded, and which makes people forget other 
attachments .” 27 Suddenly Krsna appears in their midst and the 
cowherd women, excited, flock around him : “The Lord took 
them to the bank of the Kalindl, where swarmed blackbees 
attracted by the gentle breeze charged with the fragrance of 
fully blossomed jasmines and Mandaras; the darkness of even- 
ing had been scattered by the abundant rays of the [autumn 
moon; the spot was delightful, the soft sands spread like waves 
by the waves of the Krsna .” 28 Their heartache was now dissi- 
pated by the thrill of seeing him. They achieved their heart’s 
desire when Krsna made love to them. 

Having made love with each of the cowherd girls, Krsna 
started the ecstatic dance (rasa) : 29 “Now commenced the start 

26. X. 30.34 : reme taya catmarata atmai'amo’pyakhanditalj/kaminarri 
darsayandainyam strlnaip caiva duratmatam// 

27. X.31.14 : suratavardhanam sokanasanam svaritavenuna susthu 
cumbitam/ itararagavismaranam nrnarn vitara vlra naste’dharamrtam// 

28. X.32.11-12 : tah samadaya kalindya nirvisya pulinam vibhuh/ 
vikasatkundamandarasurabhyanilasatpadam// saraccandramsusamdohadh- 
vastadosatamali sivarn/ krsnaya hastataralacitakomalavalukam// 

29. Cf. HarivamSa LXIII.25 : tas tu panktikrtah sarva ramayanti 

manoramam/gayantyah krsnacaritam dvarpdvaso gopakanyakah// “They all 
formed a circle around Krsna and satisfied that beautiful boy, singing of 
his deeds in pairs.” 



The Advaitic Theism of the Bhcigavata Purana 

of the ecstatic dance adorned with a circle of the cowherd girls, 
who stood with their necks encircled by Krsna, the Lord of 
yogins, who placed himself between every two women, and 
whom each woman imagined to be at her side .” 30 The cowherd 
women and Krsria, who had multiplied himself, dance and sing 
as the court of heavenly beings looks on the marvels. “Thus by 
embracing, touching, casting loving glances, making amorous 
gestures, and laughing heartily, the Lord of Rama, sported with 
the lovely women of Vraja, just as an infant plays with its re- 
flections (in a mirror) .” 31 The Bhagavata is in awe of a Supreme 
Being who condescends to make love with such lowly women. 
“He placed himself in as many forms as there were cowherd 
women and although he was Bhagavan and delighted in himself, 
he made love to them from sport .” 32 Then the dance ended and 
each of the cowherd vyomen returned to her home, where she 
had not been missed, since through his creative energy Krsna 
had made each husband think that his wife was actually at home 
with him all the time. 

30. X.33.3: rasotsavah sampravrtto gopimandalamanditah/ yogesvarena 
krsnena tasam madhye -dvayordvayoh/ pravistena grhitanarp kanthe svani- 
katam striyah // Cf. Visnu Purana V. 13.49-52 : rasamandalabandho’pi 
krsnaparsvamanujjnata/gopijanena naivabhudekasthanasthiratmana// hastena 
grhya caikaikam gopinam rasamandalam/ cakaratatkarasparsanimilitadrsam 
harih//tatah pravrtto rasascaladvalayanihsvanah/anuyatasaratkavyage yagl- 
tiranu kramat// krsnassaraccandramasam kaumudlm kuniudakaram/ jagau- 
gopija nastvekarp krspanama punah punah/ “As each of the damsels attem- 
pted to remain in one place close to the side of Krishna, the circle of the 
dance could not be constructed. Thereupon taking each by the hand and when 
their eyelids were closed by the effects of such touch Hari formed the circle. 
Then began the dance in accompaniment with the music of their clashing 
bracelets and songs that celebrated in sweet melody the beauty of the 
autumnal season. Krishna sang the moon of autumn, a mine of gentle rays 
but the damsels chanted the praise of Krishna only.” Translated by 
Manmatha Nath Dutt, Prose English Translation of Vishnupuranam , The 
Chowkhamba Sanskrit Studies, Vol. CX (Varanasi : Chowkhamba Sanskrit 
Series Office, 1972), p. 355. 

31. X.33.17 : evam Parisvangakarabhimarsasnigdheksanoddamavilasa- 
hasaih/ feme rameso vrajasundaribhiryatharbhakah svapratibimbavibhra- 

mah II 

32. X.33,20 : krtva tavantamatmanam yavatirgopayositalt/ rente sa 
bhagavamstabhiratmaramo’pi lilaya // 

Devotion : The Reality of the Devotee 

Allegory and Eroticism 

What we have here in the ecstatic play ( rasalild ) of Krsna 
with the cowherd women is an extremely complex story which’ 
can be understood on several levels. The story was scandalous to 
many Vaisnavas. The redactor of the Bhagavata apparently 
shared that scandal, though certainly not enough to suppress 
the story. His ambivalence is expressed through the comments 
that Suka and Pariksit made during the narration of the story, 
where rationalizations are made for Krsna 's behaviour in 
committing adultery with the cowherd women. These comments 
are not present in the version of the ecstatic dance in the Visnu 
Purana. The story in the Bhagavata was intended to be taken 
as an allegory at least at a certain level of understanding. Yet 
all Krsna’s exploits are interpreted allegorically in certain con- 
texts. But this is not the only level of interpretation since the 
redactor was in awe of his subject matter and did not bowdlerize 
the story. In fact in comparison to the earlier accounts, the 
Bhagavata' 1 s account is embellished . 33 The fact that the radactor 
did not bowdlerize the story shows that for him the story has a 
certain historicity. The exploits of Krsna, particularly the 
ecstatic play, are multivalent and the redactor preserved as 
many facets of their meaning that he could, although in doing 
this, he sacrificed a certain amount of consistency. 

The eroticism of the Bhagavata' s account of the ecstatic play is 
patent. The description is not one of a devotee whose experien- 
ces are only analogous to those of sexual bliss. The description 
is of explicitly erotic deeds. In several passages the Bhagavata 
asserts that the kama of the cowherd girls can be a liberating 
form of devotion . 34 Kama is a strong term meaning ‘concupi- 
scence’ or ‘sexual desire.’ The desire for Krsna physically cen- 
tered their attention on him to the exclusion of all else. Thus they 
surrendered themselves completely to him. Yet their love is 
scandalous on two levels since it was adulterous and compounded 
by the fact that they were not excused by the fact that he was a 
God. They were not even aware of his divine nature. As Krsna 

33. See Hardy’s analysis of the relationship of the Bhagavata to the 
Alvars and to the Visnu Purana in Viraha Bhakti, p. 497-527. 

34. Cf. VII.1.29b-30a. 


Th e Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

says in the eleventh canto: “With sexual desire for me, thinking 
me as theirlover, their paramour, the women by the hundreds and 
thousands, who did not know my true form, attained contact with 
me, the Highest Brahman.”" Similarly Pariksit says that the cow- 
hei d women “knew Krsna only as a lover, not as Brahman.” 36 To 
which Suka replies that the appearance of Bhagavan, “who is 
free from modification and unknowable and beyond the qualities, 
the Self of the qualities, is for the purpose of the final beatitude 
of people.” 5 ' Bhagavan enters the sphere of the qualities so that 
those immersed in them might be saved by that manifestation of 
him from within the qualities. There is no one more immersed 
in the qualities than someone like the cowherd girl who is 
motivated by sexual desire. Thus sexual desire for Bhagavan 
frees one from sexual desire. 

In chapter forty-seven of canto ten Krsria sends Uddhava as 
an emissary to the cowherd women. One of them then sang 
the ‘bee song’ for him: “Having allowed us to drink from his 
hps but once, he left us distraught, just as a bee like you would 
leave a flower.” 38 She expresses the sentiments of a cast-off 
mistress. Uddhava is struck by the poignancy of this situation : 
These two are strange, the wandering of the women in the 
woods, sinning by infidelity, and their surpassing affection for 
Krspa, the Highest Self; surely the Lord directly and freely con- 
teis beatitude on those who worship him unknowingly, just as 
the best drug, when consumed, heals.” 39 The manifestation of 
Kt sna s adulterous love making with the cowherd women con- 
founds the wisdom of the Vedas and of the traditional religious 
teaching. In this way the Bhagavata tries on one level to deal with 
the facticity of the cowherd women’s adulterous love for Krsria. 

35. XI. 12. 13 : matkama ramanam jaramasvarupavido’balah/ brahma 
mam paramam prapuh sangacchatasahasrasah// 

36. X. 29. 12a : krsnam viduh param kantarp na tu brahmataya mune/ 

37. X.29.14 : nrnam nihsreyasarthaya vyaktirbhagavato nrpa / avyayas- 
yaprameyasya nirgunasya gunatmanah// 

38. X. 47.13a : sakrdadharasudham svarn mohinim payayitva sumanasa 
iva sadyastatyaje’ smanbhavadrk/ 

39- _ X.47.59 : kvemah striyo vanacarlrvyabhicaradustah krsne kva caisa 
paramatmani rudhabhavah/ nanvisvaro ’nubhajato’viduso’pi saksacchre- 
yastanotyagadaraja ivopayuktah// 

Devotion : The Reality of the Devotee 109 

In the face of the indignation of the righteous, the Bhagavata 
maintains the force of the story. Love for Krsna in any way, 
especially in this way, saves since the essence of devotion is love 
for Bhagavan. 

However, the Bhagavata also accepts the injunctions against 
promiscuity and the general teaching of the Law Books ( dharma 
sastras) that sexuality binds the indulger to the cycle of death and 
rebirth. In canto three Kapila tells Devahuti that the “bondage 
and infatuation which arise from attachment to any other object 
are not so complete as that from the attachment of a man to a 
woman.” 10 Woman is a form of delusion which conquers a man 
merely by the movement of an eyebrow. “The woman who 
slowly entraps is the creative energy ( rndya ) of God ; one must 
regard her as the death of the self, like a well covered with 
grass.” 41 The context here is one where the rules of Yoga and 
the discipline of devotion ( bhaktiyoga ) are being described and 
the behavior prescribed is what would be expected of a yogin. 
The Bhagavata is not recommending Tantric practices. The 
bondage and infatuations produced by the creative energy can be 
overcome by the discipline of devotion since they have only a 
relative reality. The bondage and infatuations of the cowherd 
girls, though they are immersed in the realm of the consti- 
tuent. qualities, are directed to the absolutely real, who is present 
for his own sport in Vrndavana as Bhagavan Krsna. 

We have already seen that those cowherd girls who were un- 
able to go to the forest tryst with Krsna were able to contemp- 
late his form with loving devotion within their minds and in 
that way achieve liberation. 42 Indeed Krsna praises the cowherd 
girls for coming to him, motivated as they were by desire : 
“Because your minds are bound to me by attachment, you may 
have come; it is proper for you because all creatures delight 
in me.” 43 In either case, "the interior attitude is what constitutes 

40. HI.31.35 : na tatha’sya bhavenmoho bandhascanyaprasangatah/ 
yositsangadyatha pumso yatha tatsangisangatah// 

41. III.31.40 ••yopayati sanairmaya yosiddevavinirmita/ tamiksetalmano 
mrtyuip trnaih. kupamivavrtam// Cf. XI. 14.29-30. 

42. Cf. X.29.10-11. 

43. X.29.23 : athava madabhisnehadbhavatyo yantritasayah/ agata 
hyupapannam vah priyante mayi jantavah// 

110 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Pur ana 

devotion. Thus to the cowherd girls who came to him in the 
forest he recommends that they return to their homes since 
their desire is sufficient: “The intercourse with an illicit lover 
by women of good family is everywhere a horrible deed, 
fraught with fear, wicked, unprofitable, scandalous, and a bar to 
heaven.” 44 Yet the cowherd girls persist: “What woman of the 
three worlds would not deviate from virtuous conduct, bewitched 
by your flute’s music with its mellifluous sound and melodious 
tunes; having gazed on this form, the most graceful in the three 
worlds, even cows, birds, trees, and animals get a thrill of joy.” 45 
Such appeals take heaven by storm, and Krsna out of compas- 
sion decides to give them delight in the ecstatic play, in which 
he makes love to them and sports in the rasa dance. Their 
persistent yearning for Krsna saved the cowherd girls. Indeed 
they were rewarded with the highest kind of bliss. 

However, the Bhagavata on another level offers some expla- 
nation for this adulterous behavior of its Supreme Deity. 
Pariksit asks Sulca how it was that Krsna who came to the earth 
in order to establish virtue ( dharma ) and suppress sin could 
commit a transgression by making love to the wives of other 
men: “O Holy Sage, with what intent did the Lord of the Yadus, 
who had all his desires satisfied, commit so horrible a deed?” 46 
Suka in reply suggests that there are two standards. Religious 
duty ( dharma ) indeed is in force for ordinary humans, but for 
the Lord there is a higher standard: “A precept of the mighty 
is true, but their conduct not necessarily; the intelligent man 
should follow only what is consistent with their precepts.” 47 
There cannot be any bondage for the Lord since he became a 
person of his own free will. Those who are devoted to him are 
not bound, nor those who have released their inherited destiny 

44. X.29.26 : asvargyamayasasyam ca phalgu krcchram 
jugupsitam ca sarvatra aupapatyam kulastriyah// 

45. X.29.40 : ka stryanga te kalapadayatamurcchitena sammohitarya- 
caritanna calettrilokyam/ trailokyasaubhagamidam ca niriksya rupam 
yadgodvijadrumamrgah pulakanyabibhran// 

46. X.33.29 : aptakamo yadupatih krtavanvai jugupsitam/ kimabhi- 
praya etam nah samsayam chindhi suvrata// 

47. X.33.32 : isvaranarp vacah satyam tathaivacaritam kvacit/ tesani 
yatsvavacoyuktam buddhimamstatsamacaret// 

Devotion : The Reality of the Devotee 111 

(karma) by means of Yoga, how then can he who has done 
these things for his devotee be bound? Suka suggests that one 
should do what Bhagavan says not what he does. Someone, 
especially the Supreme Lord, who has been liberated and 
thus is not subject to his inherited destiny is not subject to 
the precepts of the religious law. Bhagavan cannot be bound 
by the law which he has made, although it still binds men. In 
other words, Krsna’s actions, no matter how contrary they 
are to the religious law, cannot bind him who is its master to 
the death-rebirth cycle. 

Suka reenforces this rationale with one drawn from non-dual- 
ism. Krsna “indwells the cowherd girls, their husbands, and 
all embodied beings, presides over them, and has assumed a 
body here for sport.” 48 He assumes a body for the good of all 
beings and he sports with them so that when they hear about it 
they too will become devoted to him. These events have been 
narrated in order to inculcate devotion. Because Krsna is 
Bhagavan there is an ‘exemplar’ causality by which his actions 
accomplish whatthey intend evenfrom the mere hearing of them. 
There is an appropriate connection between the action and the 
sentiment which will arise when the action is heard of. Bhagavan 
appeared in the Dvapara age in order to be a mainfest object 
for the devotion of the cowherd girls, who as simple women 
were devoted to him in a sexual manner. The Bhagavata Purana 
appears in the Kali age in order to enculcate devotion by tell- 
ing Bhagavan’s story: “He who full of faith hears in proper 
order, or recounts, the story of the sports of Visnu with, the 
women ofVraja is blessed with the highest devotion to Bhagavan, 
he masters his own heart before long and overcomes sexual 
desire.” 40 Hearing of Krsna’s compassion for and satisfaction 
of the desire of the cowherd girls causes a sublimation of desire 
in the devotee. Just as for the cowherd girl desire ( kdma ) func- 
tions to center her body and soul on Krspa, so for the latter-day 

48. X.33.36 : gopinam tatpatlnam ca sarvesameva dehinam/ yo’nta- 
scarati so’dhyaksah kridaneneha dehabhak // 

49. X.33.40 : vikriditarp vrajavaldhubhiridam ca visa oh sraddhanvito’ 
nusrpuyadatha varnayedyah/ bhaktinr pararp bhagavati pratilabhya karnarp 
hrdrogamasvapahinotyacirena dhirah// 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

devotee hearing about the cowherd girl’s love for Krsna helps 
him to cast aside desire, which is distracting him, and so focus 
his mind exclusively on Bhagavan Krsna. 

The Bhagavata in its multivalent understanding of the ecstatic 
play has taken it literally as historical, a real grace-full manifes- 
tation of Krsna in the Dvapara age, and then drawn a moral 
conclusion appropriate for the devotee in Kali age. Aside from 
this realistic interpretation, the Bhagavata also suggests a 
symbolic interpretation, verging on allegory. From the start of the 
narration of the ecstatic play, the allegory is hinted at: “Glorious 
Bhagavan decided to sport, supported by his yogic energy 
( yogamaya ) .” 50 Yogic energy here indicates that Vrndavana and 
all that happens there belong to a special realm wherein 
Bhagavan’s majesty ( aisvarya ), his sweetness ( madhura ), and his 
grace ( prasdda ) are revealed. To mention yogic energy here is 
equivalent to ‘once upon a time.’ Again throughout the narra- 
tion the titles and epithets suggest this allegorical meaning. For 
example: “Surrounded by the women, who had shaken off their 
sorrow, Bhagavan Acyuta shone brightly, like the Person 
with his powers ( sakti ).” 51 The cowherd women are similar 
to the powers of Bhagavan, which reveal his glories, make his 
purposes known, and display him in the forms of creation, the 
powers being the equivalent of the three qualities. All this is 
done without any diminution of Bhagavan’s transcendence. It 
is not a great step to see Krsna and the cowherd girls, who 
serve his play, as a symbol of Bhagavan surrounded by his 
created and creative powers. 

The Bhagavata is also conscious of its own uses of the stan- 
dard poetical devices of Sanskrit literature. There is a hint that 
things should not be taken too literally, since its description of 
the erotic exuberances associated with the autumnal rites con- 
forms to the standards of the poetic rasas, tastes or sentiments, 
which are the emotional postures of Sanskrit drama : “The truly 
desired one, who was loved by masses of women, and who made 

50. X.29.1 : bhagavanapi ta ratrih saradotphullamallikah/ viksya rantuni 
manascakre yogamayamupasritati// 

51. X.32.10 : tabhirvidhutasokabhirbhagavanacyuto vrtah./ vyarocata- 
dhikam tata purusah saktibhiryatha// 

Devotion : The Reality of the Devotee 113 

love though enclosed in himself, enjoyed sexually all those nights 
illuminated by the rays of the moon, exemplifying the emotions 
appropriate to poetic stories of autumn .” 52 A god whose love- 
play conforms to the canons of poetic convention surely is 
intended to have some symbolical meaning. Here the ecstatic 
play is symbolic of the indescribable ecstasy which results 
whenever Bhagavan indulges in the enjoyment of his own Self 
for the sake of others, whom he has created for that very pur- 
pose. According to S. Bbattacarya the conventions were as 
follows : 

Such a union of Krsna with the cowherd women represented 
the perfect revelation of the sentiment of love ( premarasa ), 
in which the nucleus ( dlambana ) was Krsna, the exciting 
conditions ( uddipana ) were the full moon, the fragrance of 
the flowers, etc., the expressive conditions ( anubhdva ) were 
the different gestures of the cowherd girls and the fluctuat- 
ing conditions ( sahcaribhava ) were pique, sorrow, etc. on 
the part of the gopis . 53 

Thus Krsna is the perfect revelation of the perfect bliss of Bhaga- 
van. Each of the cowherd girls, by his grace, is able to embrace 
that bliss, according to her capacity, to its full. This is why the 
Bhagavata describes Krsna as appearing separately for each girl 
in the dancing circle. The wild dance itself is the expression of the 
abandon and self-forgetfulness connected with the ecstasy of 
devotion to Krsna. The circle has no beginning and no end. 
When one enters the divine bliss, it goes on forever. Since 
ecstasy is beyond description, the Bhagavata gives in these 
passages an allegorical interpretation to the ecstatic play. 


In searching for the import of the Bhagavata' s ecstatic play, 
one cannot limit oneself only to the five chapters which describe 
it since the story of Krsna’s dalliance with the cowherd girls has 
a sequel. The ecstatic play is the Indian summer of Krsna’s youth 
Immediately afterwards he must go to Mathura in order to over- 
throw the tyrant Kamsa. He never returns to Vrndavana. Krsna 

evarn sasankamsuvirajita msah sa satyakamo’nuratabala- 
ganah/ sisevaatmanyavaruddhasauratah sarvah saratkavyakatharasasrayah// 
53. Bhattacarya, The Philosophy of the Srimad-Bhagavata, I. 127-28 

114 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Pur ana 

later marries RukminI, Jambavati, Satyabhama, and sixteen 
thousand others, and forgets the cowherd girls of Vraja. But 
they do not forget him, since in Vrndavana they continually tell 
stories of him and sing his praises : “Recalling again and again 
the actions of their dear one during his infancy and boyhood, 
they sang and wept, having forgotten shame .” 54 When Uddhava 
came to Vrndavana as Krsna’s emissary, one of the cowherd girls 
sang the ‘bee song’ to him. Its main theme is the pains and 
anguish of their separation from Krsna, upon which Uddhava 
commented that “due to your separation you have developed a 
great affection for Adhoksaja, thus you have given a great grace 
to me by giving me a glimpse of your ardent devotion .” 35 Their 
separation from Krsna has increased their devotion to him to a 
greater pitch than when he was present before their eyes. Ud- 
dhava then conveys a special message for them from Krsna: 
“Your separation from me, the Self of all, is not really possible; 
just as the elements, ether, air, fire, water and earth are in beings, 

I abide as the support of mind, the vital airs, the elements, senses, 
and the qualities .” 58 Ultimately there can be no separation at all 
between Krsna and the cowherd girls since Krsna is present to 
them as their Self and as the support of the world they live in. 
On the phenomenal level, however, Krsna keeps away from the 
cowherd girls in order to increase their devotion : “It is only 
for the sake of focusing your mind constantly on me while 
you eagerly meditate on me that I, your beloved, stay so far 
from your sight .” 57 Separation is superior to proximity, which 
diverts the mind from the purpose of devotion: “The mind of 
women does not get so absorbed in the thought of their beloved 
who is close by and before their eyes as by his staying far 
away .” 58 

54. X.47.10 : gayantyah priyakarmani rudatyasca gatahriyafi/ tasya 
sarnsmrtya sarpsmrtya yani kaisorabalyayoh // 

55. X.47.27 : sarvatmabhavo’dhikrto bhavatiuamadhoksaje/ virahena 
mahabhaga mahanme’nugrahah krtah // 

56. X.47.29 : bhavatinam viyogo me nahi sarvatmana kvacit / yatha 
bhutani bhute?u kham vayvagnirjalam mahi/ tathaham ca manahpranabhu- 

57. X.47.34 : yattvaham bhavatinam vai dure varte priyo drsam/ man- 
asah sarpnikarsartharn madanudliyanakamyaya// 

58. X.47.35 : yatha duracare presthe mana avisya vartate/ strinam ca 
na tatha cetah sarnnikrste’ksagocare// 

Devotion : The Reality of the Devotee 1 j 5 

This theme of the separation of lovers is an ancient one in 
Sanskrit and Indian literature. In the Mahdbhdrata the story of 
Nala and Damayanti illustrates this sentiment. The ideal lover is 
better exemplified in a woman than in a man. The man is en- 
meshed in desire, sensuousness, and egoism. The Hindu wife is 
the ideal of conjugal fidelity, total devotion, and self-surrender 
extending even to heroic sacrifice of self. The husband is the 
model of infidelity, which only better allows the wife to demons- 
trate her selfless devotion. This devotion of the wife for her 
husband has the character of religious ascesis. Thus Ch. Vaude- 
ville remarks: 

The Indian Epic, therefore, knows preman as an ideal love- 
relationship between husband and wife, rising above mere 
sensual desire, katna. But it is the wife, and she alone, who 
is really transformed and elevated by it, and who makes it, 
so to speak, her own sddhana. The pure Hindu wife, the 
Sati, is already a type of Bhakta , 59 

k ™‘ u " cmunes later, in tne Bhagavata, this theme of separation 
{viraha) is transferred to the adulterous cowherd girls, who risk 
the scorn of the righteous, to delight in Krsna, and ’ yet they 
must surrender their bliss in him for the agony of separation, 
thus Vaudeville continues : 

Though parakiya [adulterous] according to the letter, the 
Gopis are svakiya, faithful and chaste wives, according to 
the spirit, in so far as they serve to typify the highest form 
of Bhakti, which is conceived as a sorrowful yearning for 
the presence and the vision of Krsna . 60 

The interior yearning which accompanies separation is the high- 
est form of devotion. Narada in his Bhakti Sutras gives separa- 
tion first place . 61 An early Vaisnava theologian, Yamunacarya 
conceived devotion in this way : “Vision is high devotion; union 
is high knowledge; fear of new separation is the highest devo- 

^ dCVI,,e ’ '" Evolution of Love-Symbolism in Bhagavatism,” p. 33 

60. Ibid., p. 38. K 

61. Narada Bhakti Sutras, p. 27, sutra 82. 


Devotion : The Reality of the Devotee 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhdgavata Purana 

tion .” 62 Devotion is thus dynamic, a tension rather than the rest 
of repose in bliss. Even in possession it is an unquenchable 
thirst, like the intense sexual desire of an illicit love affair. In 
this sense, Uddhava tells the cowherd girls that they are to be 
congratulated that “the highest devotion to the renowned 
Bhagavan which is hard even for sages to attain has been attain- 
ed by you.” 63 . And again : “I salute again and again the dust of 
the feet of the women of Nanda’s Vraja, whose singing of Hari’s 
stories purifies the three worlds .” 64 The cowherd girls are the 
perfect devotees, the examples to emulate in their devotion to 
Krsna : “What penance did the cowherd girls do that they drink 
with their eyes his dazzling form, the essence of beauty, which is 
not only unsurpassed but unequaled, not adorned by anything 
external, eternally new, hard to attain, the exclusive abode of 
renown, splendor, and majesty ” 65 

This description of devotion is very different from the Yoga 
type of devotion described in the previous chapter. Rather than 
being ‘without qualities,’ this type of devotion is immersed in the 
qualities. Rather than seeking the bliss of the experience of union, 
it seeks and glories in the pangs of separation. In devotion with- 
out qualities the devotee melts his interior stream of conscious- 
ness into the pure, undifferentiated consciousness of Brahman. 
Denigrating the individuality and personality of the devotee, it 
endangers the uniqueness and personality of Bhagavan Krsna. 
As if in recognition of this danger, the Bhdgavata compliments 
the devotion without qualities found in the discourses of the 
second, third, and eleventh cantos with the love ( preman ) devo- 
tion of the tenth canto. Love devotion with its corollary, separa- 
tion ( viraha ) devotion, is confident enough in the essential 
non-duality of Bhagavan and the individual self to resist 
absorption of the individuality and personality of the indi- 

62 Quoted in TyagISananda, Aphorisms on the Gospel of Divine Love or 
Narada Bhakti Sutras, p. 52; darsanam parabhaktih syat parajnanam tu 
sangamah/ punarvislesabhirutvam parama bhaktirucyate// 

63. X. 47.25 : bhagavatyuttamasloke bhavatlbhiranuttama/ bhaktih 

pravartita distya muninamapi durlabha// 

64. X.47.63 : vande nandavrajastrinam padarenumabhlksnasah/ yasam 
barikathodgltarn punati bhuvanatrayam// 

65 X 44 14 ' gopyastapah kimacaranyadamu?ya rtipam lavanyasara- 
masamordhvamananyasiddham/ drgbhih pibantyanusavabhinavam durapa- 
mekantadhama yasasah sriya aisvarasya // 

vidual devotee into an impersonal Brahman. The mystical 
pangs of the separation from Krsna, after the bliss of union with 
him, parallels and reflects the metaphysical reality of the indivi- 
dual self within the external bliss, consciousness, and being of 
Bhagavan, whose supereminent love supports the separate exist- 
ence of his lover-devotee. Thus both strands of the Bhagavata's 
devotion are grounded in non-dualism. Both allow the existence 
of the phenomenal world a place within that non-dualism. Yet 
the conservative devotion which stems from the Bhagavad Gita, 
which is treated in the Bhdgavata' s discourses, emphasizes the 
transcendence of Bhagavan and the relative nothingness of his 
devotee. The innovative devotion, which is treated in the narra- 
tives of the tenth canto, projects an image of a Bhagavan who is 
incarnationally involved with his devotees. The one form of 
devotion reenforces the reality of Bhagavan, while the other 
confirms the reality of the devotee. The Bhdgavata thus in its 
total import ties both Bhagavan and his devotee together in a 
vision of a non-dualism with qualities (savisefddvaita) from either 
of the two points of view. 

Interpretations of the Bhdgavata 


Chapter VII 


The unique place of the Bhdgavata in the devotional literature of 
India is shown by the plethora of commentaries upon it. The first 
literary reference to the Bhdgavata is found in Alberuni in 1030 
A.D. Vopadeva (12th century) wrote the Harilila, an index to the 
Bhdgavata. As we have seen, there is no mention of the Bhdgavata 
in the corpus of Ramanuja. Strangely two followers of Samkara 
were the first to write commentaries, in a non-dualist vein, on the 
Bhdgavata, Citsukha (12th or 13th century) and Punyaranya(?). 
Apparently there were two wings to the school of Samkara, 
a Smarta group who were followers of the path of knowledge and 
a Bhdgavata group who practiced devotion as a means to the 
realization of Brahman. These latter produced the commenta- 
ries, now lost. Madhva (1238-1317) answered this non-dualist 
interpretation in his Bhdgavata Tdtparya. The famous Sridhara 
Svamin wrote his commentary around 1 325, apparently soften- 
ing his non-dualist interpretation as a result of Madhva’s com- 
mentary. Vallabha wrote his Subodhini around 1500. TheCaitanya 
School after 1500 produced many works on the Bhdgavata. 


Three theologies regard the Bhdgavata as authoritative : the dual- 
ist ( dvaita ) theology of Madhva, the pure non-dualist ( suddhadvaita ) 
theology of Vallabha, and the ineffable difference-in-identity 
( acuity abheddbhe da ) theology of the Caitanya School. An investi- 
gation of these schools will shed light on the Bhdgavata’ s original 
religious structure and the potentiality it had for development. 
Madhva was born around the beginning of the thirteenth century, 
at least three hundred years after the Bhdgavata’ s final redaction. 
He founded a highly original system of dualism on the basis of 

the Vedantic tradition. By dualism Madhva does not mean two 
independent and mutually irreducible substances, as does classical 
Samkhya. If he had, he could hardly claim to follow the Bhdga- 
vata. The use of the English term ‘dualism’ for dvaita must be 
nuanced to avoid misunderstanding Madhva’s intention. Accord- 
ing to Madhva there are three irreducible substances, but only one 
independent substance, God. The other two, the individual selves 
( jiva ), and the material world ( jada ), are dependent upon God. 

Thus there is a dependent but eternal difference between God 
and the other realities, since God is the efficient but not the 
material cause of the universe. This according to Madhva corrects 
the illogical paradox of the qualified non-dualism ( visistddvaita ) 
of Ramanuja. Because of this difference, the bondage and libera- 
tion of the individual self are real, and not to be regarded as 
produced by a delusive energy ( mayd ). There are five eternal 
differences: between God and the individual self, between 
one individual self and another, between the individual self and 
the inanimate world, and between one inanimate object and 
another. God has an infinite number of qualities, although 
he remains always one. The selves are eternally different 
from God and go through a succession of existences, character- 
ized by ignorance. The world is derived from primal nature 
( prakrti ), its material cause, a non-intelligentprinciple distinct 
from God. Liberation is the result of direct knowledge of Hari. 
The means to that knowledge are detachment, tranquility, self- 
surrender, devotion, etc. Even in the state of liberation, the 
individual self is distinct from God. 

According to Madhva, the Bhdgavata has a place along with 
the Upanifads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutras as 
authoritative Scriptures ( prasthana ). In order to refute the doc- 
trine of illusion (rnaya) of Samkara, which was considered to 
undermine the value of devotion and to deprecate the majesty of 
Bhagavan, Madhva searched these Scriptures for every evidence 
of difference between God and man. To those passages which 
showed a non-dualist tendency he gave a refutation and clarifica- 
tion. His Bhdgavata Tdtparya contains 3600 sections, which 
comment upon some 1600 of the Bliagavata’s 18,000 verses. He 
draws at times upon Pancaratra sources to augment his interpre- 
tation. He treats only the critical passages, which are open to 

120 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Pur ana 

non-dualist interpretation, especially those in the tenth and 
eleventh cantos. 

Two passages of the Bhagavata are central to Madhva’s doctrine 
and quoted in his works. The first is from the second canto where 
Suka says : “Matter, inherited destiny {karma), time, the innate 
essence of beings ( svabhava ) and the individual selves exist only 
by his grace and cease to exist the moment he grows indifferent 
towards them.” 1 Thus the existence of the individual selves, etc. 
are metaphysically dependent upon the will of God. Brahman is 
the only existent who is really independent, the controlling 
Supreme Spirit {niyamakd). The second verse is from canto one 
where Narada says : “This universe is indeed Bhagavan but in a 
way different; it is from him that there is the maintenance, des- 
truction, and creation of the world.” 2 This text gives Madhva a 
clue for the reconciliation of the texts which identify all things 
with Brahman with those texts which affirm the reality of the 
world, especially in his Commentary on the Brahma Sutras. 3 4 * 

Again, Madhva picks out passages which recognize the distinc- 
tive existence of primal nature (prakrti) which Samkara, Nimbarlca 
and Ramanuja had asserted could not be based upon Scripture 
(asabdatvam). For instance, in canto one Suta says: “The 
supreme Bhagavan, who is without qualities, formerly created this 
universe by means of the creative energy of his Self, which consists 
of qualities and has the form of cause and effect (sat-asat).”* The 
Lord is distinct from primal nature. He is not the ultimate 
material cause. Yet he sets the evolution of primal nature in 
motion as its efficient cause. As distinct from Bhagavan, the 
world is real, yet it is unreal to the extent that it is dependent 
upon him. 

The realization of the difference {bhedajhana) between God, 
the individual selves, and the world constitutes a knowledge 
that saves. Madhva in his Brahma Sutra Bhasya quotes a variant 

1. 11.10.12 : dravyam karma ca kalasca svabhavo jlva eva ca/ yadanu- 
grahatah santi na santi yadupeksaya// 

2. 1. 5. 20a : idam hi visvam bhagavanivetaro yato jagatsthananirodha- 

3 Especially in reference to Brahma Sutras 1.1.17 : bhedavyapadesacca/ 

4. 1.2.30 : sa evedam sasarjagre bhagavanatmamayaya/ sadasadrupaya 

casau gunamayya’ guno vibhuh // 

Interpretations of the Bhagavata 121 

reading in canto eleven of the Bhagavata in support of his doc- 
trine : “My state of lordship is fortune and the highest gain is 
devotion to me; wisdom consists in knowing ( bodha ) difference 
in the self and Hri (modesty) is being on guard against actions.” 6 
What Madhva is doing in these texts is interpreting certain 
passages in the light of other passages. The identity or non- 
duality texts are subordinated to difference texts. The literal sense 
sometimes stands in the way of the true meaning: “Texts pro- 
claiming identity between the individual self and Brahman admit 
of other reasonable interpretations in terms of the metaphysical 
independence and primacy of the Supreme, identity of place or 
interest, similarity of attributes and so on.” 6 His main concern 
seems to be to preserve and respect the majesty and supremacy 
ofVisnu. Identity texts can be interpreted in terms of mystical 
union. In a conflict between an identity text and a difference 
text, the identity text can be subordinated to the difference text. 
In this case Visnu’s supremacy would be preserved but not vice 
versa, unless one introduced a principle of illusion or ignorance, 
but illusion would mar that supremacy. Thus Madhva states that 

the difference texts do not admit of any other explanation; 
they would keep their vantage; the theory of unreal differ- 
ence stands refuted on account of the untenability of igno- 
rance obscuring Brahman. For when Brahman that is by 
definition devoid of visepas (attributes) shines in self-lumino- 
sity, there is nothing in it that could be deceived by ignor- 
ance. The assumption of unreal aspects in it, to render the 
work of ignorance intelligible, would again presuppose the 
presence of an earlier ignorance. 7 

5. XI. 19.40: bhago raa aisvaro bhavo labho madbhaktiruttamah/ vidya- 
tmani bhidabadho jugupsa hrirakarmasu// Cf. B. N. K. Sharma, A History 
of the Dvaita School of Vedanta and Its Literature (Bombay : Bookseller’s 
Publishing Co., 1960), I, 172. Instead of bhidabadho , removing difference, 
Madhva reads bhidabodhah , knowing difference. 

6. Anuvyakhyana: svatantraye ca visistatve sthanamatyaikyayorapi/ 
sadrsye caikyavak samyak savakasa yathestatah// Quoted and translated by 
B. N. K. Sharma, Madhva' s Teaching in His Own Words (Bombay : Bharatiya 
Vidya Bhavan, (1970), p. 64. 

7. Anuvyakhyana : avakasojjnata bhedasrutirnatibala katham/ ajfiana- 
sarnbhavadeva mithyabhedo nirakrtah/ nirvisese svayambhate kimajnana- 
vrtam bhavet/ mithyaviseso’pyajnanasiddhimeva hyapeksate/ Ibid., p. 65. 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

In other words, difference texts cannot be explained away since 
there cannot be a veil of ignorance spread over Brahman. 
Diffeience makes the Scriptures, including the Bhagavata, 

Madhva emphasizes the Bhagavata' s conservative, meditative 
devotion, which he defines as “the attachment of the heart to- 
wards him, preceded by a full knowledge and belief that he is the 
best thing.” 8 And again, “the firm and unshakable love of God, 
which rises above all other ties of love and affection based upon 
an adequate knovyledge and conviction of his great majesty.” 9 
That knowledge carries the conviction of one’s dependent reality 
and of Bhagavan’s independent reality. Knowledge and devotion 
are not in conflict but coalesce. The knowledge of difference 
makes sense of liberation. There must be a difference between 
the devotee and Bhagavan. For Madhva this religious imperative 
becomes metaphysical. That which is different in the world must 
be different in liberation. This is the profoundest insi sht of 

However, Madhva does not base his system solely on the 
Bhagavata. His hermeneutical presuppositions in favor of differ- 
ence texts, based on his insight into the dynamic of devotion, 
allows him to broaden the basis of Vedanta to include the Vedas, 
the Pailcaratra literature, and the Puranas like the Bhagavata. 
With this broadened base he constructs a system whose founda- 
tion is the majesty of Visnu, upon whom everything else is 
dependent. He derives much of his teaching from the Pancaratra. 
Thus he allows a place for LaksmI as the consort of Visnu, 
although he allows no place for the presiding manifestations 
{vyuha) of Bhagavan. In addition the romantic element of the 
Krspa manifestation along with both the cowherd girls and Radha 
is downplayed so Madhva can disallow the Bhagavata' s emotional 
devotion. Madhva was thoroughly in command of his scriptural 
authorities and not a slave to their literal sense. He perhaps 
preserves some of the intention of the Bhagavata' s redactor by 

8. Bhdsya on Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 1.4, quoted in A. K. Lad, A 
Comparative Study of the Concept of Liberation in Indian Philosophy (Cbowk : 
Girharlal Keshavdas, 1967), p. 162. 

9. Ibid. 

Interpretations of the Bhagavata 


his stress on the absolute supremacy of Bhagavan Visnu, the 
absolute need for the grace of Visnu for emancipation, and the 
eternal dependent separation of the individual self from Bhagavan. 
He neglects or ignores the strong Krsna element in the Bhagavata. 
While his interpretation of the identity, non-dualist, texts of 
the Bhagavata is consistent with his interpretation of their roots 
in the Upanisadic identity texts, this interpretation would seem 
to be the literal sense neither in the Bhagavata nor in the 
Upanisads. This, however, is not to fault Madhva since texts 
never stand alone, but are always in need of and subject to 
interpretation. The canons of a critical redaction analysis are 
not those of Hindu theologians. 


The pure non-dualism ( suddhadvaita ) or the path of grace 
(pustimarga) of Vallabha (1479-1531) is derived [directly from 
the Bhagavata. H. V. Glasenapp characterizes Vallabha’s 
doctrine as “a systematization of the Bhagavata Purdna in the 
light of certain epistemological views and sectarian ideas.’ 10 
According to Vallabha Scripture is the only valid means of 
knowing Brahman. The other means are valid only to the ex- 
tent that they conform to Scripture. The Bhagavata is the 
fourth authoritative Scripture ( prasthana ), which removes all 
the doubts and uncertainties raised in the three previous Scrip- 
tures, the Vedas, and Bliagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutras. 
It is the final court of appeal for Vallabha. In his Commentary 
on the Brahma Sutras Vallabha often cites the Bhagavata 
rather than the Upanisads to support his position. In the third 
section of the Tattvartha Dipa Nibandha, the Bhdgavatartha, 
Vallabha considers the general themes of the Bhagavata and in 
the Subodhini he gives a verse commentary for the first three 
cantos, a part of the fourth, the tenth, and a part of the 

On account of his complete antagonism to Samkara’s doctrine 
of mdyd, Vallabha’s system is designated pure non-dualism 

10. “Die Lehre Vallabhacarya,” Zeitschrift fur Indologie und Iranistik, 
Bd. IX (1934), quoted in Mrudula Marfatia, The Philosophy of Vallabhacarya 
(Delhi : Munshiram Manoharlal, 1967), p. 43. 


Interpretations of the Bhagavata 


T!:e Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

(suddhadvaita), non-dualism which is untainted by the dualism of 
an illusion-causing maya. His non-dualism is uncompromising: 
reality is one, Brahman is Bhagavan Krsna and all-pervading. 
Everything that exists in the world is Brahman, there is no 
second. Brahman is the cause and the effect. When Bhagavan 
suppresses or obscures ( tirobhava ) his quality of bliss ( dnanda ), 
the world appears. When he reveals his bliss ( dvirbhdva ), the 
world becomes pure Brahman. This process occurs for his sport, 
by his own free will, subject to no compulsion of illusion (maya) 
Brahman evolves the world from himself by suppressing some 
of his attributes. Difference is only a state of being an effect. It 
does not exist within the cause. Thus the world and the indivi- 
dual selves in it are Brahman, qualified by nothing other than 
11 s own pleasure. Vallabha follows the Bhagavata' s use of the 
term maya. It is the creative energy of Bhagavan by which he 
assumes the forms of all existent beings. 11 The world and the 
selves are existent potentially or latently within Bhagavan, who 
is the material ( upadana ), efficient ( nimitta ), and inherent (sama- 
vdyi) causes. The inherent cause is Bhagavan’s actual, insepar- 
able, and continuous presence in the world and in the individual 
selves. He is present in his effects and one (tdddtmya) with them. 
Thus pure non-dualism means that everything is Brahman, one 
without a second, in contrast to Samkara’s absolute’ non- 
dualism ( kevalddvaita ) where Brahman is the only reality, every- 
thing else being unreal due to illusion (maya). Bhagavan is 
therefore the support of opposing qualities and is manifest 
in multiple forms. 

_ Brahman has three forms: (1) the highest is the divine 
(adhidaivika) form, Krsna or the Highest Person; (2) the imper- 
sonal (aksara) form in which the attributes of being, knowl- 
edge, and bliss are unmanifest; and (3) the inner controller 
(antaryamin) form which is seen in the different manifestations 
(avatara) of Bhagavan. The impersonal form or Brahman can 
be known by the path of knowledge. Vallabha subordinates this 
to the highest personal form, thereby reversing the priority of 
Samkara, who considered the impersonal or quality-less Brah- 

11. Cf. G. N. Joshi, Atman and Moksa (Ahmedabad : Gujarat Univer- 
sity, 1965), p. 592. 

man the highest goal and object of knowledge. Instead Vallabha 
in his consideration of the Bhagavata brings together all the 
passages which highlight the supremacy of devotion and its goal 
the personal Bhagavan. For Vallabha, Bhagavan’s creative 
energy obscures his bliss dimension. Devotion alone penetrates 
the veil of the creative energy to the bliss of Bhagavan. Bon- 
dage is considered in order to know what liberation is. Krsna 
is the purport ( tatparya ) of every text. The Vedas had described 
the form of Bhagavan which was devoid of qualities, now their 
insufficient view of Bhagavan is supplemented and completed 
by the Bhagavata, which describes Bhagavan as the fullness of 

The key text in the Bhagavata for Vallabha is 1.3.28: “Krsna 
indeed is Bhagavan himself.” 12 This statement is given its full 
value and no other text can contradict its meaning. One who 
worships Krsna with devotion is relieved of all misery. His 
motive in all things is sport (Ilia), the motive of Bhagavan. 
Knowledge without devotion is useless since devotion supplies 
what is lacking in the path of knowledge, namely, a keen sense 
of Krsna’s personality. The fruit or reward of knowledge is in- 
adequate. Since the individual self is a part (atnhi) of Bhagavan, 
his grace alone is a sufficient instrument for bringing about the 
highest attainment of Bhagavan. Knowledge leads to the imper- 
sonal (aksara) Brahman, but devotion leads to the bliss of 
Bhagavan Krsna. 

The theme of canto ten is, according to Vallabha, nirodha, 
which he defines as “a favorable condition for the divine sport 
along with his powers.” 13 Krsna’s manifestation takes place on 
behalf of his devotees, whom Bhagavan wants to infuse with 
his bliss aspect. Vallabha says that “blazing fire, when station- 
ed outside cannot enter a piece of wood and light the fire exist- 
ing (potentially) in the wood, and that the fire existing (poten- 
tially) in the wood cannot burn the wood by itself.” 11 The 
special intervention of Bhagavan Krsna in his fullness is needed 
to bring the bliss which is already potentially in the devotee to 

12. 1. 3. 28a :. .. krsnastu bhagavansvayam/ 

13. Subodhim X.l.l, quoted in Marfatia , The Philosophy of Vallabha- 
carya, p. 219. 

14. Ibid., p. 221. 

" 6 T,le Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Pur ana 

manifestation. Although Krsna pervades the individual selves, 
his bliss is obscured and is only potential in them. If Krsna 
does not reveal his manifest form, the bliss in the individual re- 
mains obscured. Thus Krsna undertakes his play {Ilia) in the 
world in order to reveal the bliss already present, but obscured, 
in the individual selves and in inanimate beings. 

Vallabha in his commentary of X. 1.12 gives an etymology of 
the name ‘Krsna’, which is divided into kjs, existence, and na, 
bliss. Krsna is the union of existence and bliss. Listening to his 
exploits realizes in the devotee his obscured existence and bliss. 
The devotee must abandon everything that impedes devotion, 
yet alone he can do nothing. By the grace of Bhagavan, every 
obstacle can be overcome. Prasdda, favor, is the manifestation 
ol the glory of Bhagavan, while anugraha, grace, is the over- 
looking by Bhagavan of the weaknesses of the devotee. Bhaga- 
van is the husband of the individual self which is considered 
feminine. God is the highest form of bliss {rasa). Devotion is a 
constant, “firm and supreme love for God preceded by a full 
comprehension of his greatness.” 15 Union is not the final end 
here, because it is already present metaphysically. When the 
bliss of union, as in the ecstatic play of Krsna with the cowherd 
girls, occurs, it is only a transitory feeling of emotion {vyabhi- 
cari), which deepens and enhances the true end of devotion 
which is devotion itself. There is no room here for any earthly 
passion {kama). The ecstatic play {rdsallld) is an allegory of the 
love of God for his devotees in terms of the human passions of 
union and separation. Separation is the highest form of devo- 
tion since in it the heart hungers and craves for Krsria whom 
it perceives in everything. The ecstatic play of the cowherd aids 
symbolizes the ideal of unselfish devotion and total dedication 
to Krsna. Their love is a spiritual love for Krsna, untainted by 

physical desire. It is the ideal towards which the devotee should 

Vallabha systematizes the Bhagavata ' s statements and divides 
the individual selves into three kinds. These souls differ accord- 

15 ' Z a -, mr ‘ ha D ' pa Nihcmdha 1.42 : mahatmyajnanapurvastu sudrdhah 
sai vafo dhikah/ sneho bhaktiriti proktastaya muktirna canyatha // Quoted in 
Marfatia, The Philosophy of Vallabhacarya, p. 84. 

Interpretations of the Bhagavata 127 

ing to their innate essence {svabhdva), their behavior {kriya), 
and the reward { phala ) awaiting them. (1) the continuing 
{pravahika) souls have their material cause in God’s intellect, 
which desires to be many. There is no special providence watch- 
ing over them. Since they indulge in sensuous worldly enjoyment, 
they are forsaken by divine grace and are not subject to divine 
law. They will wander in the cycle of death and rebirth forever 
since God does not pervade them in any special way, beyond that 
of his creative energy which supports their existence. Thus they 
have mdya bodies. An example of the continuing souls in the 
Bhagavata is an asura (demon ) . 

(2) Law-abiding {maryada) souls are based on the divine word 
(vac) for their material cause. They follow the divine law and 
study the Vedas. The knowledge aspect of Bhagavan predomi- 
nates in them. If they seek the rewards of their actions {salcama), 
they will be exalted in this world and in a future paradise. If 
they forsake the reward of their actions {niskama), seek detach- 
ment and follow a path of knowledge or Yoga, they will have 
an appropriate reward. They may worship the Lord for the 
sake of liberation, in which case they will be absorbed in the 
impersonal Brahman without qualities as is appropriate for their 

(3) Grace {pusti) souls evolve from the bliss {anandd) aspect 
of the manifestation body of Bhagavan. They are the souls chosen 
by the Lord for participation in his exalted qualities. Within 
them is a seed of the divine love, which makes them fit to touch, 
see, and embrace Krsna. They rely on the grace and love of 
God. These souls act only out of love for Bhagavan for his own 
sake. Led on by Bhagavan, they appropriate the divine bliss in 
place of their own limited essence, which had obscured that bliss. 
Reintegration into that bliss is the meaning of their liberation 
and beatitude. There are four gradations of grace souls, (a) 
Continuing grace {pravaha pusti) souls are content to perform 
the duties of their caste and state in life. They lack the devo- 
tional fervor or affection for the Lord of higher souls, yet they 
are eligible by the grace of Bhagavan for a higher state in a 
future life. ( b) Law-abiding grace {maryada pusti) souls know 
the attributes of the Lord, (c) Pure grace {suddha pusti) souls 
overflow with love for Bhagavan Krsria. They are untainted 

128 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Pur ana 

by his creative energy and no attribute of the divine splendor 
is suppressed in them. They dwell with Krsna in Goloka, 
the heavenly Vrndavana. Their purpose in becoming manifest 
is to do Bhagavan’s will. 

According to Vallabha the exploits of Krsria in Vrndavana are 
entirely symbolic. The birth of Krsna is a revelation of the 
glorious divine form within the mind of the devotee. The death 
of the demoness Putana is the eradication of that ignorance 
which binds the devotee to the world of matter. When Yasoda 
sees the entire universe within Krsria’s mouth, it is a symbol of 
the awakening of the devotee to his true nature. The develop- 
ment of the intensity of devotion reveals in turn the Brahman, 
the Highest Self, and the Bhagavan forms of the Deity. The 
devotee, before entering the transcendental realm of Vrndavana, 
must put off both his physical and subtle bodies as the Bhagavata 
says : “When the cowherd girls came together with him, they 
recognized the Highest Self as a paramour, their bonds dis- 
appeared and at that moment their bodies consisting of the 
qualities were cast off.” 16 Therefore Vallabha states that there 
was no sexual intemperance in the ecstatic play since the cowherd 
girls had an essence of perfectly pure goodness (visuddhasattva) . 
As S. Bhattacarya says, “rasa is to be understood as a feature 
of the eternal Krsna and not of the historical Krsna at all.” 17 

Vallabha thus teaches a form of predestination which seems 
foreign to the simplicity of the Bhagavata ’ s teaching. He wants 
to protect the divine majesty, which cannot be restricted since 
Bhagavan’s will is unconditioned. Bhagavan saves or condemns 
whenever he wills. In other words, he allows the level of pheno- 
menal experience according to the whims of his play (li la). In 
any case, he is the only existent. Ultimately there is no other, 
although this does not preclude the eternal existence of his parts, 
the individual selves. Vallabha emphasizes the Bhagavata ’ s love 
devotion (premabhakti) in a spiritualized form. Its goal is an ever- 
lasting ecstatic dance with Krsna in a transcendental Vrndavana. 
This sacrifices some of the historical realism of the Bhagavata ’ s 

16. X.29.11 : tameva paramatmanam jarabuddhyapi samgatah; jahur- 
| gunamayam deham sadyabpraksinabandhanah// 

17. Bhattacarya, The Philosophy of the Srimad-Bhagavata, I. 103. 

Interpretations of the Bhagavata 129 

account of the manifestation ( avatara ) of Krsna. Vallabha 
strengthens the type of devotion practiced by the cowherd girls 
of Vraja by means of his unqualified non-dualism, yet without 
sacrificing the separate existence of the devotee. He has ordered 
the Bhagavata around what, according to him, is the central 
insight of the Purana: Krsna indeed is Bhagavan himself. From 
that starting point he takes every example of a devotee in the 
Bhagavata and places it in an ascending hierarchy of devotion. 

The School of Caitanya 

Caitanya (1485-1535) was the founder of a devotional sect 
within Bengal Vaisnavism in the early sixteenth century. Since he 
was primarily a saint and missionary of devotion, he left 
only a few devotional verses behind him. Systematization 
was done by his followers, especially the gosvamins of 

Vrndavana, of whom Jiva is our primary source here. 
According to this school, God is apprehended in three 
ways. The follower of the path of knowledge sees God as the 
absolute Brahman, which has neither qualities nor sports 
among men. The follower of Yoga understands by God the 
Highest Self, who is the creator, maintainer, and destroyer of 
the universe and the inner controller of the individual self. He is 
the immanent aspect of Bhagavan. Then there is the follower of 
the path of devotion. Bhagavan is the highest personal form of 
the Absolute, who displays himself to the devotee in all his 
qualities, powers, and sports. He is both transcendent and 
immanent. Bhagavan Krsna is Brahman, the Highest Self, and 
Bhagavan. Following the text, “Krsna indeed is Bhagavan 
himself,” 18 the school affirms that Bhagavan is a form and aspect 
of Krsna. The Bhagavata which contains this key text ( mahavakya ) 
is the authoritative Scripture for the followers of Caitanya. It is 
the summation of all the previous Scriptures. Since it was be- 
lieved to have been written by Vyasa as a commentary on the 
Brahma Sutras, the Bhagavata, and not the Sutras, is commented 
upon by this school. 

All the inhabitants of Vrndavana are parts of Kr?na ( [svanisa ). 
They are all manifestations of the divine form. The cowherd girls, 

18. 1.3. 28a : . .. krsnastu bhagavansvayam/. 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhdgavata Parana 

and especially Radha who is prominent in Bengal Vaisnavism 
but not mentioned in the Bhdgavata, are powers ( sakti ) ofKrstia, 
who is the possessor of the powers ( saktimat ). They are thus 
both different and non-different from Krsna. The one single 
power of Krsna is distinguished in three ways. The inner power 
(antarahga) displays the heavenly world and all that is in it before 
the inner eye of Bhagavan. In this world Krsna sports with his 
companions. This power is all-perfect, consisting of the divine 
essence of being, knowledge, and bliss (sacciddnanda). As the 
Highest Self ( paramatman ), Krsna has two other powers. The 
outer power ( bahirahga ) is that power by which God creates, 
maintains, and destroys the universe. Between the inner and 
outer powers of Bhagavan is the expressive power ( tatastha ) 
which expresses itself in the individual selves. 

Krsna is Bhagavan, not an avatara. His descent at the end of 
the Dvapara age, described in the Bhdgavata, is not properly a 
manifestation. The earthly Vrndavana, Mathura, and Dvaraka 
are identical with their heavenly counterparts. At times the 
sports af Krsna, which go on eternally in the heavenly cities, are 
not manifest in the earthly cities. What appears to be a descent 
of Krsna is only a temporary manifestation for the sake of the 
devotees of what is really eternal in heaven. 

Krsna, although content within his interior life, also is a 
self-differentiating God, who creates and enters into the universe. 
In the form of the presiding manifestations ( vyuha ) Krsna evol- 
ves the universe. In the form of the cosmic manifestations 
(gunavatdra), Visnu, Brahma, and Siva, then in the form of 
the play manifestations ( lilavatdra ), Rama, the tortoise, etc., 
and then in the form of the part manifestations ( avesavatdra ), 
Vyasa, Narada, etc., Krsna watches over and compenetrates 
every phase of the universe and of the individual selves. Distinct 
from these manifestations, which are forms of Krsna, are the 
individual selves (jiva). Yet, although distinct from Krsna, the 
individual selves participate in his essence in an infinitesimal 
form whereas Krsna possesses his essence perfectly and 
infinitely. What a drop of water is to the ocean, the indi- 
vidual self is to Kr?na. The self is a spark of the fire of the 
divine essence. It is eternal, that is, although subject to the 
evolution of the world from the primal nature, it stands by itself 

Interpretations of the Bhdgavata 131 

in undivided time. Its connection with the material body is 

The Bengal school carries the personalization of Brahman to 
its furthermost. While the outer power ( bahirahga ) exercised in 
the world of the primal nature does not affect Krspa’s essence, 
the inner power (antarahga) is paradigmatic and transcendentally 
parallel to the outer power. Krsna is transcendentally a man 
(narakrti) in his interior essence. As P. Johanns puts it: 

The devotees shed tears of tenderness when they meditate on 
this their God adjusting His innermost life to the heart of 
man. They consider it as the apex of condescension, that 
even life as a Bhagavan or Paramatman has no meaning for 
Him unless it expresses itself and culminates in a likeness to 
human ways. It is as if God said: my life is nothing to me, 
except insofar as it has a meaning for souls . 19 

The Caitanya school teaches a radical metaphysical anthro- 
pomorphism. The phenomenal world and the individual self are 
just shadows of the transcendental world and the Supreme 

In this system the paths of action, knowledge, and Yoga have 
value only if they prepare the way for devotion. Devotion is an 
all-absorbing passion ( anurdga ) for God, but it also has its 
stages. First is devotion which resorts to means ( sadhana bhakti) 
and is twofold. Prescribed devotion (vaidhl bhakti) follows the 
instructions of the Bhdgavata for the practice of the ninefold 
devotion, hearing, singing, remembering about Bhagavan, etc. 
A second form of the devotion which resorts to means is the de- 
votion of emotional attachment (raganuga bhakti) to Krsna, 
which bypasses the steps of prescribed devotion. It takes the 
form of vicarious identification of the devotee with the servants, 
friends, parents, and lovers of Krsna. The goal of the devotion 
which resorts to means is affective devotion (bhava bhakti) which 
is the emotional dawn of love ( preman ) for Krsna. Love is 
spontaneous and exclusive attachment to Krsna. 

19. Pierre Johanns, S. J., A Synopsis of To Christ Through the Vedanta 
(Ranchi : Catholic Press, 1944). IV, 12. 


1 32 The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

At this point Bengal Vaisnavism incorporates the theory of 
the sentiments {rasa) from Sanskrit aesthetics. The sentiment, or 
aesthetic stirring, enables the devotee to contemplate the inner 
life of Bhagavan Krsna. Just as in a drama where the spectator 
experiences the joys and sorrows of the hero, the devotee contem- 
plates the transcendental life of Kv?na described in the Bhagavata. 
He relives Krsna’s life and realizes it within himself in terms of 
the sentiments. The highest, most perfect sentiment is the erotic 
thrill {srhgara), the highest accomplishment of devotion. For 
example, the cowherd girls surrendered unconditionally to Krsna, 
whom they loved for his own sake. They seek nothing but to 
foster his pleasure. They forget their parents, husbands, and 
good reputation and blindly follow Krsna. Yet there is no touch 
of scandal, for as Jiva Gosvamin postulates, there are two 
aspects to the ecstatic play of Krsna. As umnanifest ( aprakrta ) 
in the inner essence of Krsna, the ecstatic play takes place in a 
transcendental, ideally pure realm. The cowherd girls are Krsna’s 
intrinsic powers ( svarupasalcti ), and thus are his wives untouched 
by immorality. As manifest {prakrta) in the outer essence of 
Krsna, the ecstatic play is a projection of the unmanifest ecst- 
atic play. As such it is not subject to criticism. The manifest 
play leads the devotee by means of ecstatic devotion to the 
unmanifest play. The Vrndavana play is not a mere allegory or 
symbol but literally history in both its phases. But why then 
are the cowherd girls described in the Bhagavata as the wives of 
other men ? 

Jiva draws on the Bharata Natyasastra for his explanation: 
“The intensity of love reaches its climax when it is impeded by 
constant obstacles and the meeting of the lovers takes place 
in concealment and that also very rarely.” 20 The pitch of emo- 
tional attachment, according to traditional Sanskrit drama, 
reaches a greater height in the irregular love of the unmarried 
than in the normal love of the married. This is the way one should 
love Krsjna. The Bhagavata describes the cowherd girls as the 
wives of others in the manifest play, although in the unmanifest 
play they are Krsna’s wives, because in the ecstatic devotion 

20. Quoted in Bhapacarya, The Philosophy of the ^ritnad- Bhagavata. 
I, 104. 

Interpretations of the Bhagavata 

{rasa bhakti ) of the devotee a greater attachment to Krsna can 
be thus reached. In this way Jiva transformed the Bhagavata ' s 
preference for the devotion of separation ( yiraha bhakti) into 
one free from scandal by drawing on the Sanskrit theory of the 

The Caitanya school describes its teaching as ineffable differ- 
ence-in-identity {acintyabhedabheda). Metaphysically Bhagavan 
realizes himself in the world, although he is already perfectly 
realized in his interior essence. He is the cause of all, an d in 
his causal state already contains every effect, yet proceeds 
for the sake of the devotee, who is already transcendentally 
present in Bhagavan, to externalize himself. Mystically the 
devotee realizes himself in Bhagavan, although he is already 
Bhagavan in his expressive power {tatastha). This identity 
is metaphysically and mystically ineffable {acintya). In a mys- 
terious manner Bhagavan’s powers are different from his 
essence, yet one with him. The primary analogue for this mystery 
is the relation of lovers, which is a difference-in-identity rela- 
tionship, whose rapture reenforces both difference and identity. 
This difference-in-identity is found both in Krsna’s love for his 
devotee, which finds expression both metaphysically and cosmi- 
cally, and in the devotee’s love for Krsna, where its mystical 
{rasa) expression completes the purpose of Krsna’s play. 

The Caitanya school is based primarily on the Bhagavata, 
interpreted according to the kind of erotic mysticism experienced 
by Caitanya and his followers. This mysticism seeks to express 
its religious longings in terms of the Bhagavata, especially its 
tenth canto. It seeks to relive that story. The Vrndavana ex- 
ploits of Kr§na overshadow completely the parts of his biogra- 
phy which took place in Mathura and Dvaraka. The mutual 
love of the devotee and Bhagavan is emphasized much more than 
in the original Purana. The figure of Radha, who is barely hinted 
at in the Bhagavata, is given prominence. Thus the Bhagavata 
whose stories were developed, for instance in th e Padma Put ana 2 
and in the Brahmavaivarta Purana, is interpreted in the light of 
those developments. 

21. Cf. Sushil Kumar De, Early History of the Vaishnava Faith and 
Movement in Bengal (Calcutta : Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1961), p. 347. 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 


In the interpretations of these schools various facets of the 
Bhagavata are emphasized. As with any authoritative, canonical 
Scripture, the Bhagavata reenforced and gave form to the reli- 
gious experiences of its followers. In turn it was seen and 
read through the eyes of those experiences, and thus received a 
form and sense over and beyond the literal sense. None of the 
schools gives a redaction criticism of the Bhagavata. They were 
not in a position to, if they had wanted. Religiously all the 
interpretations are valid within the parameters of their her- 
meneutical principles. Madhva, in order to emphasize the supre- 
macy of Bhagavan, interpreted the non-duality or identity 
passages in a metaphorical sense. Madhva was devoted to Visnu, 
thus he backtracked somewhat from the Bhagavata' s identi- 
fication of the Supreme Deity with Krsna. The fact that he was 
at pains to interpret the non-duality passages in this way is a good 
clue that the redactor intended them to be understood in a 
normal Vedantic and non-dual manner. Since the ecstatic play of 
Krsna with the cowherd girls was contrary to his understanding 
of devotion, it was downplayed. 

Vallabha stressed the non-dualist quality of the Bhagavata. 
He wrote a commentary on the Brahma Sutras in the light of 
the Bhagavata. This anachronism irks modern scholars but is 
perfectly consistent with his religious motivation. He identified 
the Supreme Deity with Krsna. Because of his strong aversion 
for the illusion {mayo) doctrine of Samkara and his followers, 
he stressed the non-illusion aspects of the Bhagavata's teaching 
on the creative energy (mayo) of Bhagavan. In this matter he 
approximated the intention of the redactor. His concern to 
accommodate the Bhagavata to the Vedanta traditions gives his 
interpretation a Vedanta flavor. This too is in accord with the 
redactor’s intent. Finally he systematized, in the doctrine of the 
different levels of devotion, what was an eclectic collection of 
the legends of famous devotees. 

The followers of Caitanya were even more single-minded about 
the Bhagavata than Madhva or Vallabha. The emotional intensity 
of Caitanya s devotion to Krsna and the Vrndavana play was an 
ever-present example of what they thought was the Bhagavata' s 

Interpretations of the Bhagavata 


teaching. Devotion in this sbhool became a vicarious partici- 
pation in the Krsna Ula. Following the lead of the Bhagavata, 
the stories of the great devotees become histories, which are 
more real than the very life experiences of the devotee. As he 
advances in devotion, the devotee ceases to live in an earthly 
Vrndavana but in a transcendental realm inhabited by Krsria 
frolicking with the cowherd girls. 

The Bhagavata teaches non-dualism. It also teaches the dis- 
tinction between Bhagavan and the individual self. Depending 
upon the predilection of the interpreter a system of non-dualism, 
dualism, or difference-in-identity results. These interpretations 
shed light on the redactor’s intent. It becomes clear, however, 
that a major influence on all of the interpreters, but not upon 
the redactor, was the illusion ( maya ) doctrine of Santkara. The 
Bhagavata also teaches two forms of devotion. Depending upon 
the predilection of the interpreter, a meditative devotion or an 
emotional devotion results. These interpretations, whether in- 
clusive or one-sided, place the unsystematic quality of the 
Bhagavata's teaching about devotion in high relief. 

The Religious Structure of the Bhagavata 


Chapter VIII 


Non-dualism and Difference-in-Identity 

The Bhagavata, according to its own account, is a treatise on 
the meaning of Brahman ( dsraya ), which is the support and 
refuge of the devotees. All its other topics and characteristics 
are devoted to explaining the ramifications of Brahman. Brahman 
is above all the Supreme Deity, Bhagavan Krsna. Yet in the 
very first verse of the Bhagavata, Brahman, the highest reality, 
is connected with the universe: “Him from whom is the creation, 
etc. of the universe .” 1 In the first canto Suta declares the non- 
dual nature of this absolute reality : “Those who possess the 
knowledge of the Truth call the knowledge of non-duality as 
the Truth; it is called Brahman, the Highest Self and Bhagavan .” 2 * 
The Bhagavata thus clearly appeals to the non-dualist tradition 
of Vedanta as the framework for its assertions about the non- 
dual nature of the Absolute, who is identified with Bhagavan 

There is a Vedantic core which is common to all the schools 
and Scriptures of Vedanta. It may be summarized in this way. 
Brahman is the supreme cause of the universe and is all-pervad- 
ing and eternal. This is known from Scripture: the Upanisads, 
the Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita. Actions are subordi- 
nate to knowledge or devotion. They are useful only for 
preparing the mind for knowledge or devotion. This accom- 

1. 1. 1.1 a : janmadyasya yato .../ 

2. 1.2.11 : vadanti tattattvavidastattvaip yajjnanamadvayam/ brahmeti 

paramatmeti bhagavaniti sabdyate// 

plished, the actions and their rewards must be renounced. 
Bondage is subjection to the cycle of death and rebirth ( sarpsara ). 
Liberation is a deliverance from that cycle. 

In the Vaisnava tradition the doctrine of devotion is added to 
this Vedantic core. Devotion is then the means' of achieving 
liberation. Brahman is seen as a personal God who has an 
infinite number of attributes or qualities. The individual selves 
retain some degree of individuality even in liberation. The 
selves are atomic and share Brahman’s attributes of knowing 
and acting. Liberation becomes a greater participation in the 
nature of Bhagavan . 8 

Non-dualism is a profound insight into the nature of 
Brahman. Vaisnavism transformed non-dualism by means of its 
intense theism, which necessitated some means of acknowledging 
the reality of the world and of the individual self. One such 
means within the ambit of non-dualism is the doctrine of differ- 
ence-in-identity ( bhedabheda ). No specific school is referred to 
here by that doctrine. Rather it is a classification of a generic, 
although variously nuanced, position within the spectrum of the 
Hindu thought tradition. There may be some confusion in 
regard to the relation of the difference-in-identity theory to non- 
dualism. Non-dualism is that position which bases itself upon 
the Upanisads. It speculates about the non-duality, or identity, 
of Brahman, the Highest Self, and the individual self. As such 
it stands in need of further explanation as to how that can be. 
The manner of explaining the non-duality is the basis for differ- 
entiating types of non-dualism. Generally two types of non- 
dualism have been distinguished within Hinduism. 

That position which denies the ultimate reality of the world 
and of the individual self while positing a single absolute reality, 
Brahman, whose nature is pure consciousness, may be called a 
non-dualism which is without distinctions ( nirvisesadvaita ). 
Brahman is described as without qualities ( nirguna ) or as without 
distinctions or differences ( abheda ). The concepts of illusion 
(maya) and ignorance {avidya) are introduced to give some 

3. V. S. Ghate, The Vedanta : A Study of the Brahma Sutras with Bhaf- 
yas of Saipkara, Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Madhva, and Vallabha (Poona : 
Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1960), pp. 36-37. 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

explanation for the unreality of the phenomenal world. This 
view of non-dualism is held by Samkara and the mayavadins. 

That position which affirms that the reality of the world and 
of the individual self is ontologically dependent upon a single 
absolute reality, Brahman, whose nature may be qualified or 
particularized, may be called a non-dualism which has qualities 
or distinctions ( savisesadvaita ). Another term for this is differ- 
ence-in-identity (bhedabheda). Brahman is described as with 
qualities ( saguna ) or with distinctions or differences ( sabheda ). 
The concepts of creative energy ( maya ) and of power (sakti) are 
introduced to give some explanation for the dependent reality of 
the phenomenal world. This is probably the position of the 
Brahma Sutras. With various nuances this position is held by 
Bhaskara, Vijnanabhiksu, and by the Vaisnava theologians, 
Nimbarka, Ramanuja, Vallabha, and the followers of Caitanya. 4 5 

There are five characteristics of Vaisnava difference-in-identity 
theology. 6 (1) The world which is real has its origin in Brahman 
or God, who is both its efficient and material cause. (2) The 
individual self, although distinct, is ultimately identified with 
God. (3) Bondage is in some sense the responsibility of the 
individual self, liberation is freely given by God. (4) God, the 
ultimate reality, is personal. (5) The Divine penetrates all strata 
of reality, since there is no other reality. 

A further position may be identified in Hindu thought. 
Dualism ( dvaita ) is that position which affirms that the relation 
between Brahman or God and the world and the individual self 
is one of ultimate difference. This difference or distinction is 
fundamental. God is the efficient but not the material cause of 
the universe and the individual self. This position is espoused 
by Madhva and his followers. 

4. Ibid., p. 170. 

5. Cf. John W. Borelli, Jr., “The Theology of Vijnanabhiksu : A 

Translation of His Commentary on Brahma Sutras 1.1.2 and an Exposition 
of His Difference-in-Identity Theology,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, 
Fordham University, 1976, although Vijnanabhiksu’s difference-in-identity 
theology differs significantly from that of the Vaisnava theologians. 

The Religious Structure of the Bhagavata 139 

The following chart illustrates these distinctions : 

advaita dvaita = bheda 


• I J 

mrvisesa savisesa Madhva 

or or 

abheda bhedabheda 

Samkara | 

I I 

upadhika acintya visistadvaita suddhadvaita 

Bhaskara Jiva Ramanuja Vallabha 

As we can see, difference-in-identity {bhedabheda) is open to 
several interpretations. Thus from the point of view of the 
identity of Brahman, Vedantic theology may be classified into 
two positions : non-dualism {advaita), divided between (1) non- 
dualism without differences {abheda) and diffcrence-in-identity 
(bhedabheda), and (2) dualism (dvaita), while from the point of 
view of difference between God and the world it may be 
classified into three positions : (1) non-dualism without qualities 
(abheda), (2)difference-in-identity (bhedabheda), and (3) dualism 

In its implicit religious structure the Bhagavata is a difference- 
in-identity text. Explicitly it is non-dualist. At the time in the 
ninth century in the milieu of South India, non-dualism was 
virtually equivalent to difference-in-identity. A text was non- 
dualist which upheld the non-dual reality of the Absolute with 
qualities since the new form of non-dualism without qualities 
stemming from Samkara was only beginning to make its influ- 
ence felt. Several centuries later by the time of the systematic 
theologians ( dcdrya ) that influence was formidable and had to 
be reckoned with. For instance, according to the best scholar- 
ship, the Brahma Sutras, even though its doctrine is explicable 
only in the most general terms, taught a non-dualism of the 
difference-in-identity variety. The illusion (maya) doctrine of 
Samkara finds no support in a literal reading of the Brahma 
Sutras. The same is true of the Puratias and the Pancaratra 
literature. So powerful, however, was the illusion doctrine’s 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhdgavata Parana 


influence and so cogent was its claim to be understood as non- 
dualism, that once it was known, scholastic Vedantins had to 
take notice of it. Particularly important was its appropriation of 
the Brahma Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, and even the Bhdgavata 
(by its early commentators), which were interpreted in support 
of its teaching. 

The revival or renaissance of Brahmanism and Hinduism in 
the first millennium a.d. over against Buddhism and Jainism was 
strongly spurred by the Mimamsakas and then by Samkara. It 
soon spread to the Vaisnavas who felt that the revived doctrines 
were tainted by that which they reacted against. They felt that 
these new doctrines left little room for the religion of love 
and devotion, which had a long tradition among them. As 
R. G. Bhandarkar remarks : “This doctrine left no room for 
the exercise of love and piety in the world of reality, though its 
followers allow it in the ordinary illusive condition of the human 
souls, and therefore it laid the axe at the root of Vaisnavism.” 8 
The result was the attempt by the scholastic Vaisnava theo- 
logians to recapture their own documents, which they considered 
their heritage. Their counterattacks employed more finely honed 
interpretative principles than before. The postulation of non- 
dualism was not enough, since the mayavadins also claimed to 
have reached the true meaning of non-dualism and the true 
interpretation of the Scriptures. Therefore the Sri-Vaisnavas 
brought forth qualified non-dualism, Nimbarka taught a dualistic 
non-dualism ( dvaitddvaita ), and others attempted variations on 
the non-dualism with qualities theme. Madhva tried a new tack 
altogether and advocated dualism ( dvaita ). These scholastic 
theologians were more or less successful in combatting the 
illusion theory and in giving ontological support to the relation 
of the devotee to Bhagavan in devotion. We have seen in 
Chapter VII the various hermeneutical uses to which they 
applied the Bhdgavata Purana. 

The Bhdgavata’ s Difference-in-identity 

That the Bhagavata is explicitly non-dualist and implicitly 
difference-in-identity can easily be shown by appeal to its many 

6. R. G. Bhandarkar, Vaisriavism, Saivism and Minor Religious Systems 

(Varanasi : Indological Book House, 1965), p. 51. 

The Religious Structure of the Bhdgavata 

theistic passages which propose non-dualism in contexts which 
support the reality of the world and of the individual self. In 
canto two the Bhdgavata presumes a difference-in-identity 
structure : “Bhagavan assumes the form of Brahma and accepts 
names, forms, and activities, himself being both the things 
designated and the words denoting them. He is both the doer 
of actions, and non-doer. He is beyond both.” 7 Passages like 
this one are fresh and naive, uncomplicated by a theory of 
transcendental illusion. Again in canto three, Visnu tells 
Brahma that “when you are full of devotion and properly 
poised in meditation, you will see me pervading you and the 
world, and yourself and the world reposing in me.” 8 The 
Absolute is all that is and he contains all subordinate reality. 
Difference-in-identity theory grounds the evolution and dissolu- 
tion of the universe by means of Bhagavan’s creative energy : 
“By the power of the creative energy of myself, in association 
with the elements, senses, and the qualities, I. create myself in 

my self, protect them and destroy them; the Self is an embodi- 
ment of knowledge, pure, separate, unconnected with the 
qualities.” 9 Difference-in-identity is the implicit structure which 
allows the Absolute to be one and many at the same time. 

That a difference-in-identity form of non-dualism is implicit 
in the Bhdgavata is corroborated by its Samkhya passages. The 
ultimate reality is one and beginningless. Superior to primal 
nature ( prakrti ), the Absolute shines forth in all the evolutes 
and all the individual selves. In order to realize himself for some 
ineffable purposes of his own, he disturbed the equilibrium of 
the latent constituent qualities of his power. This is done through 
the instrumentality of time. The result is primal nature, which 
then proceeded to evolve all the other categories. Yet these were 
still in a latent state. They became manifest through the creative 
energy of the Person (purusa) form of Bhagavan. The absolute 

7. 11.10.36 : sa vacyavacakataya bhagavan brahtnarQpadhrk/ namarO- 
pakriya dhatte sakarma’ karmakah parah // 

8. III. 9.31 : tata atmani loke ca bhaktiyuktalj samahitah/ drasta’si 
marn tatam brahman mayi lokamstvamatmanah// 

9. X.47.30-31a : almanyevatmanatmanam srje hanmyanupalaye/ atmam- 
ayanubhavena bhutendriyagunatmana// atma jnanamayah suddho vyatirikto’ 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

transcendent Deity willingly foregoes his transcendent state for 

immersion in lesser states of reality. The result is the manifest 
universe and the individual selves pervaded by Bhagavan in 
three forms : as their material cause, their efficient cause, and 
their inner controller. Bhagavan is also the final cause since all 
things will return to latency within the divine essence. The in- 
dividual self loses sight of its origin and goal through ignorance, 
which is caused by the creative energy, and thinks itselfa reality 
independent of the chain of being. The Supreme Self by its own 
creative energy has made itself subject to its own power in a 
difference-in-identity relationship. TheSaipkhya of the Bhagavata 
while establishing the separateness of the evolutes also empha- 
sizes the non-difference quality of all things within the absolute 
Supreme Being. 

The definitive identification of Bhagavan with Krsna gives 
the Deity a radically anthropomorphic form. The difference-in- 
identity relationship is emphasized by the metaphor of the 
human person. The Cosmic Person, originally conceived of as 
Visnu or Narayana, but now as Ki-sna, encompasses all beings 
in an organic unity. The universe is the embodiment of Bhaga- 
van and the individual selves coalesce within the Highest Self. 
When this Cosmic Person is joined to the personal biography of 
Krsna, the prince and the cowherd, a potent religious dynam- 
ism transforms the traditional meditative forms of devotion. 
The force of contemplative union or non-difference is held in 
tension with a lover’s feeling of separation. The primary 
analogue for the relation of the individual self to the Highest 
Self is transferred from knowledge to the level of feeling 
Drama replaces psychology. The non-dual Brahman’s creation 
of others finds a motive. Whereas knowledge discovers that 
Brahman is being {sat), this intensive devotion uncovers a bliss- 
ful Bhagavan, eager to share, to experience the fullness of his 
rapture with another. The experience of the rapture of the 
devotee for Bhagavan is Bhagavan delighting in himself. Devo- 
tion is the condescension of the bliss of Bhagavan toward the 
devotee. Devotion is non-dualism and difference-in-identity 
rapturously experienced. In the Bhagavata if there is to be a 
real bond between the devotee and Bhagavan, it must be in- 
trinsic to Bhagavan as well as to the devotee. “God stoops to 


The Religious Structure of the Bhagavata 

the mind of men,” according to S. Bhattacarya, “to establish the 
triumph of basic unity between man and Himself .” 10 Devotion 
is Bhagavan. The flow of the mind toward Bhagavan, vitiated 
by no personal motive, triumphs even over liberation. All sense 
of a selfish ‘I* and ‘mine’ is lost in the bliss of love, but the 
basis for a personal relationship with Bhagavan is granted by 
his grace. Devotion itself becomes the only distinguishing 
characteristic between the devotee and Bhagavan. 

Nowhere is this difference-in-identity better expressed in the 
Bhagavata than in the ecstatic dance of Krsna with the cowherd 
girls. The cowherd girls have stripped away every trace of ‘I’ 
and ‘mine’ in their selfless loving regard for Krsna. He rewards 
each of them with the highest bliss of his own personal presence. 
The dance has no beginning and no end. The Bhagavata 
stretches every metaphor, simile and analogy of the Puranic 
tradition to their limit in order to express the splendor of devo- 
tion to Bhagavan Krsna who unites himself to the devotee. 
Devotion for Bhagavan finds a metaphysical basis in a differ- 
ence-in-identity form of non-dualism which in turn is grounded 
on the experience of devotion. 

10. Bhattacarya, The Philosophy of the Srimad-Bhagavata, II, 156. 



Chapter IX 


This study of the religious structure of the Bhagavata Purana, 
although technical and analytical, has a significance and meaning 
for the life and study of religion beyond that of situating a 
Scriptural text within a religious history. Reflection on some of 
its basic elements shows that this text engages the basic issues 
confronting a person seeking to reach and authentic existence. 
In itdeep and unconscious forces working in the religious life of 
humans have come into the area of explicit consciousness. The 
Bhagavata is above all God-conscious. In it God is continually 
breaking into the world of man. He gives solace, fights off 
demons, counsels, plays, sports, and confers wisdom. The Purciria 
is what happens when religious men seek to put together in one 
text every aspect, implication, and significance of that breaking 
into the human realm. The Purana of the Devotees of Bhagavan 
is what happens when those devotees compile and collate every 
bit of data about their beloved Krsna, every saying, sermon, 
anecdote, legend, story, incident, or teaching which will explain 
his coming among men. Like the Bible, this Purana brings 
together creation and salvation, where we come from and where 
we are going. The origin and the goal of human existence 
implicate each other. Consistency falls before inclusivity in such 
a worthy task. 

God is the center to which the two main themes of the 
Bhagavata are drawn: non-dualism and devotion. Non-dualism 
is a radical attempt to preserve both the transcendence and the 
immanence of the Divine. This insight is not the result of a process 
of detached speculation. It is not a philosophy. Nomdualism is 
both a religion and a spirituality. The transcendent Deity guar- 
antees the orderliness of the phenomenal order, the immanent 

Deity glows within and bursts the bounds of that phenomenal 
order. God’s presence overwhelms the autonomy both of the 
universe and of human beings. Non-dualism ties together with- 
in the unity of God all his creatures, sentient and insentient. 
Authentic existence is impossible, according to the Bhagavata, 
without a vision of non-dualism. Without it all order ceases, and 
disorder engulfs men. 

But God comes among men. Krsna is the beloved of the devotee. 
He is an awesome Apollo, a god of creative order. Shining and 
beautiful, he shares his wisdom with his followers, taking them 
by the hand and showing them the path of devotion which brings 
salvation. Krsna is an attractive Dionysus, a god of creative 
disorder. Mischievous and ecstatic, he romps with peasant 
women, taking their hands and dancing through the night. 
Krsna is a god and a man. He brings God to men and men to 
God. Devotion to him is an entry into the real by means of an 
inner life process. It combines knowing and feeling in a path 
of self-transformation. Yet devotion is a grace from God. Both 
the state of illusion and the state of transformation are due to 
God’s creative energy ( maya ), which is surpassed and super- 
seded by God’s appearance among men in his truest form. The 
transcendent Deity, Krsna, is like a man. Thus men are divine 
and God is human. 

The love of the devotee for God is primary in the Bhagavata. 
There is mention of love of neighbor only in passages about 
friendliness and compassion. God is all and all-encompassing. 
His grace and favor extend to the devotee the divine existence 
to be grasped in a discovery of God within the inner self. Love 
for and devotion to God discover the non-dualism of God and 
his devotee. The macrophase of God’s love for men is paral- 
leled in the microphase of men’s love for God. The devotees 
discover that their yearning for God is an expression of God’s 
desire to be loved. Yearning for God is a manifestation of the 
grace of God among men. It is God yearning for himself. The 
devotee is God becoming other in order to love and to be loved. 
God desires men to love him and thus enters the realm of human 
beings where he is pursued and sought for by his devotees. God 
descends to men so that men may ascend to God. Bhagavan is 
God who is sought after, the devotee is God seeking. 




The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Parana 

God is a love in which the universe and human beings parti- 
cipate. Because human beings are emanations of God there is a 
mutual participation of God in the love of men for him and of 
menin the love of God for them. Eros and Agape, in the 
sense of Anders Nygren , 1 are identical because there is no 
ultimate distinction between God and his devotees. To the 
extent that there is a distinction between God and his devotee, 
God represents the type of Eros-love. He spontaneously and 
freely loves himself and motivates his devotees to love him in 
order to enhance that Self-love. The universe and the devotees 
within it are an expression of the Self-delight of God. The 
devotees also participate in this Eros-love. They have an innate 
tendency, when it is not obstructed by ignorance and attach- 
ment to sense objects, to center their attention in a loving gaze 
upon a Deity who is not other than themselves. This love of 
the devotees is Eros because it cannot but be a fulfilment 
of their inner selves while at the same time it is the love of 
God for himself which is a fulfilment of his own Self. The 
ideal of Agape is represented in the Bhagavata by the 
cowherd girls who forego all delight in the beloved Deity in 
a sacrifice of self. Through an act of faith in God’s grace and 
on account of their selfless love for him their self-sacrifice be- 
comes an expression of their absolute dependence upon and 
participation in the existence of God. If one can say that there 
is a transvaluation of Eros by Agape in Christianity, then it is 
true to say that in the Bhaga vata there is a trans valuation of 
Agape by Eros. The self-sacrifice of the Agape-love of the 
cowherd girls is drawn into the vortex of the Self-centered 
desire of the Eros-love of Bhaga van Krsna. 

The interaction of these two loves is grounded by the 
Bhagavata in its diiference-in-identity metaphysics. The identi- 
fication of Bhagavan and his devotees makes possible their 
distinction. This difference-in-identity non-dualism distinguishes 
the devotionalism of the Bhagavata from the devotionalism of 
the other three major devotional traditions of the world, 
Christianity, Islam, and Mahayana Buddhism. Christianity 

1. Anders Nygren, Eros and Agape, translated by Philip S. Watson, 
Harper Torchbooks (New York : Harper and Row, 1969). 

roots its devotion in the incarnation among men of a tran- 
scendent Deity. God is neither the ‘material’ cause of the 
universe nor of men’s souls. Salvation is the mysterious 
bestowal of the divine life by means of grace. The primary 
locus of the Christian’s devotion is in public liturgy in which 
the redemptive mystery is celebrated. While salvation is a 
divinization and entry into the life of the Trinity, the dis- 
tinction between the devotee and Deity is always kept in view. 
This distinction is further emphasized and maintained in Islam. 
God is personal but totally other and one. Neither incarnation 
nor mediation can be interposed between the devotee and the 
one God. The paradigmatic act of devotion is an act of sur- 
render before the majesty of God. The devotion of Mahayana 
Buddhism for the Buddha or for a Bodhisattva takes place 
against the background of the Non-Self or of Emptiness. In 
such a tradition neither identity nor difference is important. 
The process of salvation is primary. Whereas the other tradi- 
tions view God and the devotees through the primary ana- 
logues of Being and Selfhood, Buddhism relies on the analogues 
of Non-Being and Non-Self. Its devotion is colored by this 
negative tone. The Bhagavata along with most of the devotional 
schools of Hinduism stands over against these three devotional 
traditions by its emphasis on the non-duality of God and the 
devotee. This identity is based upon a conception of ‘material’ 
causality which is not found in the other traditions. This 
emphasis gives the Bhagavata' s type of devotion a distinctive 
quality and tone quite different from that of the other traditions. 

While identity is found in the other traditions, often in their 
esoteric or heretical phases, it is a ‘moral’ or ‘spiritual’ identity. 
For Christianity and Islam the accusation of pantheism limits 
the extent to which the language of identity can be used. 
Identity is thus a ‘mystical’ union of God and the devotee 
which is rendered suspect if its language of union suggests 
metaphysical identity. In contrast the phase of Hinduism 
represented by the Bhagavata glories in the use of a radical 
language of identity. Vedantic and Samkhya thought introduces 
an identity based upon a ‘material’ causality in which the 
ell'ccts and their causes are identified. The identity is not 
to he misunderstood as implying the non-entity or illusoriness 


The Advaitic Theism of die Bhagavata Purana 

of the world. For the Bhagavata non-dualism functions within 
a religion of devotion which maximizes the personhood of 
the Deity. Although each tradition of devotion characteris- 
tically maximizes the personhood of the Supreme Deity, 
and thus distinguishes the Deity from the person of the 
devotee, the Bhagavata introduces this distinction within the 
person of the Supreme Deity. Perhaps a homologue for the 
nature of this distinction is the Christian doctrine of the 
Trinity wherein otherness does not imply separation. Rather 
the perfection of the Deity requires a Triune difference within 
the identity of the Godhead. In a homologous manner the 
Bhagavata proposes a vision of a God who by his own power 
creates distinctions within himself. These distinctions derive 
reality from the Godhead without diminishing his reality. To 
separate devotion from non-dualism as has often been done is 
therefore to trivialize the Bhagavata' s vision of the devotee’s 
love for Krsna. Devotion is primarily an ontological rather than 
a moral phenomenon. 

Comparison of Bhagavata and Classical Samkhya 

Appendix 1 




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111.26.1-48; XI.24.1-9. 

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The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

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Texts and Translations 

1. Bhagavata Purana 

Bhdgavata Purana of Krsna Dvaipayana Vyasa With Sanskrit 
Commentary Bhdvdrthabodhini of Sridhara Svamin. Edited 
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A Prose. English Translation of Srimadbhagabatam. Edited and 
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by H. C. Dass, 1895-1896. 

Srimad Bhagavatam. Translated by N. Raghunathan. 2 vols. 
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Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana ( With Sanskrit text and English 
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Srimadbhdgavatamahdpurdnam. 2 vols. Gorakhpur : Gita 

Press, n.d. 

The Srimad-Bhagavatam of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa. Trans- 
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Manoharlal Pvt. Ltd., 1973. 

Srimad Bhagavatam of Krsna-Dvaipayana Vyasa. Translated by 
A. C. Bhaktivedanta. New York : Bhaktivedanta Book 
Trust, 1972-1982. 

The Wisdom of God {Srimad Bhagavatam). Translated by Swami 
Prabhavananda. New York : Capricorn Books 1968. (A 

synopsis and paraphrase.) 

2. Other Works 

Aphorisms on the Gospel of Divine Love or Narada Bhakti Sutras. 
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Samkhya- Karika of Srimad Isvarakrsna with the Mdtharavrtti of 
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A Prose English Translation of Visnupuranam. Translated by 
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Srisrivisyupurdna. Gorakhpur : Gita Press, n.d. (Sanskrit and 
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The Vedanta Sutras of Bddardyana with the Commentary by 
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Bhagavata Purana ^indicates citation without quotation) 

Canto I 

5.11, 12b 

p. 35 


p. 26 


25, 32 


2, 136 













6.36 b 








6.45 b 


2.1 Ob-11 

















57, *62 






12, *50, *92 












13, 18,28 












Canto III 


57, 61, 67, 125, 129 




25, *32 



3.45 b 



















32, 38 










27, 120 



6. 17-1 8a 


























25.39-41, 43-44 














26.21, 25, 28 

64, *65 

Canto II 


















21, *86 


















The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Pur ana 


p. 87 



















29.33b, c 











87, *95 



Canto IV 














64, *65 



28.40, 42 


Canto V 









Canto VI 




82, *94 





16.52, 55 


Canto VII 





1 ,29b-30a 


1.44a, 45b 


3.3 lb-32 


3.33 b 








4.39 b 






























Canto VIII 

1.44a, 45b 79 







17.23a b 


Canto IX 









Canto X 













8.39, 43b 





















37, 112 































Index of Texts Cited and Quoted 



p. 104 


p. 84 


















*37, 106 

































































22. 2-3 a 






































80.34, 43b 








Canto XII 

87. 2-3 







*80, *82 








*13, *92 











11.25 b 


89.5a, 60a 












Canto XI 


Bhavartha Dipika (Sri- 












Bhagavata Mahcitmya (Padma Parana) 













Bhagavad Gita 















IX. 13 








XI .44 



The Advaitic Theism of the Bhdgavata Purana 

Bhdsya on Brhadaranyaka 


p. *115 

Upanisad (Madhva) 



Rg Veda 


59, *61 

Brahma Sutras 



Sainkhya Kdrikas 




















Subodhini (Vallabha) 






Tattvartha Dipa Nibandl 

Narada Bhakti Sutras 










Vis mi Purana 



V. 13.49-52 



Alberuni 6, 118 
Anuvyakhyana (Madhva) 121 
Archer, W. G. 11-12 

Banerjea, Jitendranath 53 
Bhdgavata Bhavartha Dipika (Sri- 
dhara) 67 

Bhdgavata Mahatmya ( Padma Purana ) 

Bhdgavata Tatparya (Madhva) 118- 

Bhagavad Gita 10-11, 60, 71-72, 76-77, 
85, 88,96-97, 99,118-119, 123, 136, 

Bhakti Sutras of Narada 102, 115-116 
Bhandarkar, R. G. 99, 140 
Bharala Natyasastra 132 
Bhaskara 138-139 

Bhdsya on Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 
(Madhva) l'22 

Bhattacarya, Siddhesvara 3, 23, 48, 59- 
60, 67, 88-90, 113, 128, 132, 143 
Biswas, A. S. 3 
Bodhayana 8 
Borelli, John 138 

Brahma Sutras 7-8, 10-12, 119-120, 
123, 129, 134, 136-140 
Brahma Sutra Bhdsya (Madhva) 120 
Brahmavaivarta Purana 133 
Buitenen, J. A. B. van 4-5, 7, 10-12 
Burnouf, E. 3, 6 

Caitanya 2, 11, 13, 118, 129-134, 138 
Citsukha 118 
Colebrooke 6 

Dasgupta, Surendranath 3, 5, 17, 26, 

De, Sushil Kumar 133 
Dutt, Manmatha Nath 106 

Ghate, V. S. 137 
Glasenapp, H. V. 123 

Hacker, Paul 31 

Hardy, Friedhelm 7, 97, 107 

Harilild (Vopadeva) 6 
Harivamsa 6, 10, 53, 60, 99, 103-105 
Hazra, R. C. 30 

Hopkins, Thomas 3, 6, 9-11, 39, 71 

Ingalls, Daniel H. 2 
Isvarakrsna 42, 44, 46, 150 

Jaiswal, S. 52-53, 59-60, 71 
JIva Gosvamin 129, 132-133, 139 
Johanns, Pierre 131 
Jones, William 99 
Joshi, G. N. 124 

Kinsley, David R. 56 

Lad, A. K. 122 

Macnicol, N. 99 

Madhva 2, 11, 13, 118-123, 134, 138- 

Mahdbharata 7, 10-11, 53, 60, 115 
Marfatia, Mrudula 123, 125-126 
Masson, J. L. 103 
Matsya Purana 12 
Monier-Williams, Monier 17 
Moore, Charles 44, 72 

Nammalvar 98 
Ndrdyaniya 60 
Nathamuni 10 
Nimbarka 120, 137, 140 
Nygren, Anders 146 

Padma Purana 5, 55, 133 
Pargiter, E. 3 
Patanjali 85-86, 88 
Pahcardtra Samhitd 65 
Perrin, Norman 15 
Punyaranya 118 
Pusalker, A. D. 13 

Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli 44, 72 
Ramanuja 7-8, 10-11, 118-120, 139 
Raychaudhury, H. C. 53, 99 
jRg Veda 59, 61 
Rukmani, T. S. 4, 24, 149 

Samkara 10, 24-25, 31, 39, 118-120, 
123-124, 134-135, 138-140 
Sdrpkhya Kdrikas 42, 44-47 
Sastri, K. A. Nilakantha 10 
Sastri, P. 5 

Sastri, S. S. Saryanarayana 44 
Seal, B. 99 

Sen Gupta, Anima 43, 47, 50 

Sharma, B. N. K. 121 

Shinn, Larry 10, 52 

Singer, Milton 2, 4 

Sridhara 4-5, 13, 67-68, 86, 118 

Subodhini (Vallabha) 118, 123, 125 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

Tattvartha Dipa Nibandha (Vallabha) 

Tyagisananda 102, 116 

Upcmisads 10, 28, 39, 42, 71, 88-89, 97, 
119, 1236, 13-137, 

Vaidya, C. V. 5, 10 
Vallabha 2, 11, 13, 118, 123-129, 134 

Vaudeville, Charlene 72, 99-100, 115 
Vijnanabhik$u 138 

Visnu Purana 6, 10, 13, 53, 99, 106- 
107, 143 
Vopadeva 6, 118 

Wilson, H. H. 3, 6 
Winternitz, M, 4-5 

Yamuna 7-8, 10, 115 
Yocum, Glenn 97-98 

Zaid 99 



(includes personalities found in the Bhagavata Purana) 

abheda, 13, 21, 40, 137-139 
abhedavada, 39 

Absolute, 17, 24-28; see Brahman 
acintyabhedabheda, 118, 133, 139 
advaita, 138-139 
agape, 145-146 
ahamkara, 44, 64, 87 
Alvars, 6-10, 12, 71, 97-99, 133, 143 
asraya, 13, 17-18, 50, 136 
avatara, 8, 36, 52, 56, 59-63, 65-70, 
75, 91, 124, 129-130 

Bhagavan, 18, 23, 29, 36, 38, 40, 52- 
70, 73-74, 80, 83, 90, 94-95, 99-101, 
120, 123-126, 129-133, 136, 140— 
143, 145 

Bhagavata Purana, 2-4; author, 7-12; 
Caitanya, 129-133; commentators, 
118-135; contents, 12-15; date, 4-7; 
difference-in-identity, 140-143; in- 
terpolations, 4-5, 118-135; Madhva, 
11 8-123 ;puranic genre, 12-14; Sam- 
khya, 42-51; unity, 4-7; Vallabha, 

Bhagavatism, 8-9, 52 
bhaktiyoga, 72, 86, 89, 109 
bhavadvaita, 22 
bheda, 13, 138-139 
bhedavada, 13, 69, 137-139 
Brahma, 18-19, 21-22, 24-25, 28, 34- 
35, 43, 57 

Brahman, 7, 12-13, 17-18, 23, 25, 
28, 40-43, 91, 108, 122, 124, 129, 
136-139, 142 

Christianity, 99, 146-148 
creative energy, 31-33; see maya 

devotion, Ajvars, 97-99; characteris- 
tics, 79-81; ecstatic, 100-102, 
133-137; ecstatic play, 102-106, see 
rasalila; eroticism, 107-113; forms, 
71-79; liberation, 92-96; ninefold, 
81-85; separation, 113-117, see 
viraha:; superiority, 90-92; Yoga 
and knowledge, 85-90 
dharma, 9, 66-67, 80-81, 104, 109-110 
difference-in-identity, 13, 133, 135- 
143, 146; see bhedabheda 
dravyadvaita, 22 
dvaita, 118-123, 138-140 
dvaitadvaita, 140 

eros, 146 

four ages, 53-55 

gopis, 102-103, 108, 113 
guna, 25, 32, 40, 62, 78 
gunavatara, 62-63, 130 

illusion, 38-39, 145 
Islam, 132, 146-148 

Jainism, 97, 140 

kama, 102, 107, 111, 115, 126 
kevala dvaita, 124 
knowledge, 85-89 
kriyadvaita, 22-23 

Krsna, 2,4, 8, 11-12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 
24, 27-28, 37-38, 51-63, 66-73, 77, 
79, 83, 85, 89-91, 94, 96-97, 99, 101- 
117, 122, 124-135, 143-148 
Krsnaism, 11, 71 

liberation, 21, 30, 38, 73-75, 92-96, 
109, 119, 137;seemukti 
lilavatara, 65-70 

manifestations, 59-62, see avatara; 
cosmic manifestations, 62-63, see 
gunavatara ; play manifestations, 
65-70, see lilavatara; presiding 
manifestations, 63-65, see vyuha 
maya, 19, 25-26, 29, 31-33, 35-36, 38- 
39, 43-44, 90, 103, 109, 119, 123- 
124, 127, 134-135, 137-139, 145 
mayavadins, 39, 138, 140 
Mimamsakas, 140 
mukti,13, 73, 92 

nirguna, 24-25, 28, 79, 137 
nirvisesadvaita, 39, 90, 137-139 
non-dualism, 1, 16-41, 49-51, 63 , 95- 
96, 111, 117, 123-124, 135-148, 180; 
see advaita 

paiicalaksana, 12-13 
Pancaratras, 8-9, 12, 58, 63-65, 119 
122, 137 
parinama, 47 
power, 34-35; see sakti 
prakrti, 43, 46-47, 49, 83, 89, 119-120 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 

prasada, 90, 112, 126 
prasthana, 119, 123 
preman, 89, 100, 113, 115-116, 128, 

puranic genre, 4, 12-14 
purusa, 17, 44-46, 49, 87, 141 
pustimarga, 123-129 

rajas, 25, 62, 78-79 

rasa, 112, 132-133 

rasa, 105, 110, 126, 128 

rasabhakti, 133 

rasallla, 37, 102-113, 126, 128 

redaction criticism, 4, 15-16, 134 

saguna, 28, 138 

Sakti; 34-35, 48,112,130, 138 

samadhi, 50, 87 

sarfikhya, 14-15, 17, 21, 24-25, 42-51, 
64, 70, 92, 119, 141-142, 147 
satkarya, 21, 47 
sattva, 25, 57, 61-63 , 65, 74, 78 
savisesadvaita, 69, 117, 138-139 
Self, 28-30, 40, 42, 113 
separation, 113-117, 126, 133; see 

Siva, 27, 36, 57, 63, 97 

Srl-Vaisnavas, 8-9, 12, 146 
suddhadvaita, 118, 123-129 
Sufis, 98-99 

Supreme Person, 19, 45, 49, 62, 72, 
141-142, see purusa 

tamas, 25, 44, 62-63, 78-79 
Tamil Culture, 6, 11, 97-99 
Tantrism, 8, 54, 58, 64, 80, 82-83, 109 
time, 29, 48 
trimurti, 56-57, 62-63 

Vaisnavism, 2, 23, 41, 52, .55, 59-60, 
63| 70, 82, 85, 97-99, 132, 137-138 
Vedanta, 23, 39, 42, 70, 80, 87, 119, 
122, 134, 136, 139, 147 
viraha, 115-116, 133 
visistadvaita, 119, 139 
Visnu, 18-19, 24, 28, 34, 52-63, 68-69, 
97, 101, 111, 121-123, 141-142 
vyuha, 8-9, 53, 58, 60, 63-65, 122 

yoga, 14-15, 51, 57, 72-73, 80, 85-90, 
95, 116, 131 
yogamaya, 35-37, 112 
Yogic Energy, 35-37; see yogamaya 





line 32 

For “Witernitz”, read “Winternitz”. 



line 37 

For “Bhakati”, read “Bhakti”. 



line 37 

For “Bhagavata”, read “ Bhagavata ”. 



line 30 

For “againt”, read “against”. 



line 6 

Add period after plurality. 



line 38 

For “maith”, read “matih”. 



line 29 

For “jivalo”, read “jivalo”. 



line 28 

For “With”, read “Without”. 



line 32 

For “vasuddhara”, read “visuddham”. 



line 35 

For “putrasnehamayim”, read “putras- 



line 16 

For “somthing”, read “something”. 



line 7 

For “Vesudeva”, read “Vasudeva”. 



line 6 

For “in”, read “In”. 



line 17 

For “A”, read “As”. 



line 25 

For “Journey”, read “journey”. 



line 32 

For “RV”, read “Rg”. 



line 38 

For “1.3. 18a”, read “I.3.28a”. 



line 5 

For “Vasudeva”, read “Vasudeva”. 



line 37 

For “111.26.21,95, 28”, read “III.26.21, 
25, 28”. 



line 23 

For “conto”, read “canto”. 



line 7 

For “Bhgavan”, read “Bhagavan”. 



line 2 

For “is all the human”, read “is the 



line 26 

For “tradition”, read “traditions”. 



line 4 

For “lead”, read “leads”. 



line 9 

For “datachment”, read “detachment”. 



line 37 

For “Atman and Moksa”, read “Atman 
and Moksa”. 



line 8 

For “and”, read “an”. 

Page 147 

line 39 

For “non-entity”, read “non-reality”. 


The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana 





Add The Bhagavata Purana. Translated 
by Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare. 5 vols. 
Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass, 1976-1978. 





For “Theif”, read “Thief”. 





For “Divive”, read “Divine”. 



Tr. J. L. Shastri 

This Pur ana contains six sections: Section One reports on the 
creation of Devas and Asuras, of heroes and pitrs of numerous 
mythological stories, allegories, legends of kings and wise men 
of prehistoric time. Section Two describes Jambo Dvipa 
and narrates the story of Jada Bharata. Section Three is of mis- 
cellaneous nature. It reports on Manus, Manvantaras, Vedic 
Schools, Liberation, Castes and Stages of Life, Rites and Rituals 
and on the origin of heretical sects opposed to the Vedas. Section 
Four gives genealogical lists of ancient Royal houses and 
mentions Sisunagas, Nandas, Mauryas, Sungas, Kanvayanas, 
Andhrabhrtyas and some foreign tribes. Section Five narrates the 
life of Srlkrsna. Section Six describes yugas and the evils of Kali. 


Tr. J. L. Shastri 

The Vamana Purana begins with an account of incarnation of 
Visnu as a dwarf (vamana) and deals with the Avataras of Vi§pu 
in general. On the other hand, a considerable section deals with 
Linga worship, the glorification of places sacred to Siva and 
Saivite legends of the marriage of Siva and Uma, the origin of 
Ganesa and the birth of Kartikeya. 


Tr. J. L. Shastri 

This Purana narates the story of cosmic flood out of which 
Visnu in the form of a fish saved Manu, the progenitor of man- 
kind. By the religious contents it might be classed as much 
Saivite as Visnuite. Religious festivals of Vaisnavas are des- 
cribed side by side with those of Saivas, and the legends of both 
Visnu and Siva are recorded. 

The Matsya Purana contains chapters of historical interest. 
As an instance it alludes to foreign invasions, especially the burn- 
ing of cities by the barbarous tribes — Huns and others. 

Delhi Varanasi Patna Madras